Top Swiss institutes launch joint cyber-security programme

Today a single hacker sitting in their apartment can bring a company or even a country to its knees. Keystone / Sascha Steinbach

Switzerland’s federal technology institutes have launched a new Masters degree in cyber-security as part of an effort to play a leading role in studying the protection of computers and networks.

This content was published on March 20, 2019 - 18:00

The two Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology, Lausanne's EPFL and Zurich's ETH, already offer “world-class training in the fields of computing and information technology," said education and research minister Guy Parmelin at the announcement of the new Master in Cyber-securityExternal link

The course, which debuts in autumn 2019, runs for four semesters and is being jointly run by EPFL and ETH Zurich. Students may choose three semesters in Zurich and one in Lausanne, or the other way round. It also includes work experience in a company and a social sciences component, since there are legal, ethical, economic and political as well as technical aspects to cyber-security. Enrolment is open for several more weeks, but some 60 students are already interested, the presenters said.

The market could absorb some 200-300 cyber-security specialists per year, according to the National Strategy for Switzerland’s protection against cyber risksExternal link.  

Hack attacks

“We live in a world where one individual in his or her apartment can bring a company or even a whole country to its knees,” said EPFL president Martin Vetterli.

Parmelin was brutally reminded of the need to protect against hackers by a cyber-attack on government-owned defence firm RUAG in early 2016, just 20 days after he took up his previous post as defence minister.

But the academic world was already working on cyber-security well beforehand in a world where, unfortunately, “in the realm of IT security, the thieves are often ahead of the police," according to Parmelin.

ETH Zurich President Joël Mesot cited as an example ID QuantiqueExternal link, a supplier of secure cyber solutions which began as a University of Geneva spin-off and now belongs to a large South Korean telecoms company. Mesot pointed out that Zurich also has experts working in specialised and relatively little-known fields such as security for the GPS or 5G systems.

“EPFL has invested a lot in cyber-security research over more than ten years with teachers highly qualified in cryptography and protection of personal data,” said the EPFL's Vetterli. He and Mesot both believe this new, joint course will help make Switzerland a leader in the field.

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