Interview with Thomas Holt, Ph.D. about the Graduate Certificate in Cyber Criminology and Cyber Security at Michigan State University

About Thomas Holt, Ph.D.: Thomas Holt is the Director of the School of Criminal Justice within the College of Social Science at Michigan State University. As Director of the School, he serves as the overall supervisor for faculty and staff, and assists with issues students may have at all levels of instruction. As a Professor, Dr. Holt teaches courses related to cybercrime, cybersecurity, criminological theory, and various research methods. His current work assesses the practices of illicit markets on both the Open and Dark Web, as well as the growth of cyberattacks by ideologically motivated hackers and nation-state sponsored actors. He teaches courses in both the certificate and new degree program, advocating for the growth and development of the program.

Dr. Holt earned all of his degrees (inclusive of Ph.D.) at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis. He took an interest in cybercrime in 2002 while as a Ph.D. student, and found the intersection of technology and crime fascinating. His dissertation explored the social networks and subculture that shaped the hacker community, and he grew his research in this space over time to include malicious software, data theft, and various forms of personal and economic crime occurring online.

Interview Questions

[] Could you please provide an overview of Michigan State University’s Graduate Certificate in Cyber Criminology and Cyber Security, and how it is structured? What kinds of professionals is this graduate certificate well suited for, and how does its curriculum help them realize their professional goals? May we have more information about how this program prepares students to work at the intersection of cyber security, data systems management, information analysis, and cybercrime prevention?

[Dr. Thomas Holt] The certificate is structured to provide students with an introduction to the concepts of cybercrime, cyberterrorism, cyberwarfare, and information warfare, as well as understand all aspects of these offenses. The agencies responsible for the investigation of cybercrime and the challenges evident in policing these spaces will also be addressed. The courses also provide students with an understanding of the Internet and computer systems, as well as the processes for forensic evidence collection from hard drives.

As a result, students will gain an understanding of both the technical functions of the Internet and how computers work. In turn, they will be able to better understand the ways that technology can be subverted by criminals for financial gain and harm to individuals, businesses and government. This knowledge is extremely valuable for careers at all levels of law enforcement, and can be useful for individuals seeking positions in private industry due to the substantial range of cyberattacks that can affect industry targets.

[] The Graduate Certificate in Cyber Criminology and Cyber Security is offered through Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice, as opposed to a School of Technology or Engineering. How does the school at which this program is offered impact its curriculum? What is the difference between cyber crime and digital forensics as a field of study, versus cybersecurity?

[Dr. Thomas Holt] The benefit of a program offered through Criminal Justice lies in our ability to help students understand the social aspects of cybercrime and cyberterrorism. While these offenses are enabled by technology, at the end of the day, they are driven by human behaviors. The more we understand the actors behind the machines, the better we can deal with their offenses through policy and practical investigation.

In addition, our program does not require students to enter with a high degree of technical expertise or knowledge. We focus on providing students with the necessary technical knowledge to properly investigate these offenses in ways that better fit with their overall background knowledge. To that end, we emphasize understanding the offender and the investigative practices that drive police and industry responses. This knowledge is related to cybersecurity, in that many hacks and fraud operate by subverting security tools. However, individuals do not need the same technical background as is required for cybersecurity degrees, such as knowledge of multiple program languages.

[] What online technologies does this program use to facilitate interactions between course faculty and students? Are classes primarily asynchronous, synchronous, or a combination of both?

[Dr. Thomas Holt] Our program provides multiple opportunities for faculty and student interactions. The majority of courses are held asynchronously so as to accommodate the range of schedules our student body have in their working lives. We use the D2L platform for course instruction, which has integrated email, instant messaging, and video chat features for students who want to connect to faculty in different ways.

All instructors also hold regular office hours so as to provide opportunities to interact. Additionally, everyone is regularly accessible via email or other means. Many instructors also use discussion forums and ways to engage in conversations with the students in their courses.

[] What role does faculty mentorship play in Michigan State University’s Graduate Certificate in Cyber Criminology and Cyber Security? Independent of faculty instruction and support, what career development resources and academic services are available to students of this program? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities and support systems while in the program?

[Dr. Thomas Holt] Our faculty are always ready to help guide students as they pursue their degree and navigate entering the work force. Our academic advisor, Barb Kolar, and graduate secretary, Melissa Christle, can always answer questions related to courses and academic offerings. Our Director of Online Education, Juli Liebler, and Graduate Director, Chris Melde, are also able to help students as they move through the program.

Our Career Development Coordinator, Tim Homberg also regularly provides students with information related to internships and job postings that will be of relevance to their future career. Additionally, we will begin holding online professional development events for students to better understand the career paths available, whether in law enforcement or industry, and how to differentiate themselves when applying for positions in the field.

[] For students who are interested in Michigan State University’s Graduate Certificate in Cyber Criminology and Cyber Security, what advice do you have for submitting a competitive application?

[Dr. Thomas Holt] Students seeking to apply can take one of two routes: 1) students seeking only the certificate can apply through the lifelong learner program at MSU; 2) those seeking a full masters degree, whether in Law Enforcement Intelligence and Analysis (LEIA) or Criminal Justice, should apply to our graduate program. Regardless of a student’s interests, we are seeking students who want to gain a cutting edge understanding of the human aspects of the threats posed by cybercrime and terrorism, and the ways that both public entities and private organizations can respond.

Prospective students do not need to have technical degrees or backgrounds, though those who do will be able to fundamentally understand the actors behind cybercrimes, the individuals and entities most likely to be targeted for attacks, and how the criminal justice system deals with these offenses. Students with backgrounds in policing, law, psychology, business, and finance would greatly benefit from this program.

[] What makes Michigan State University’s Graduate Certificate in Cyber Criminology and Cyber Security unique, and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? From faculty expertise and mentorship opportunities to the quality of the curriculum, what are some standout aspects of the program that you would like prospective students to know about?

[Dr. Thomas Holt] There are a few key things that make MSU a strong degree option, the first of which is our national reputation for graduate education. Our online degrees are ranked in the Top 10 by US News and World Reports due to the caliber of our instructors and the quality and rigor of courses. In fact, our instructors are nationally and internationally renowned experts in the field of cybercrime, terrorism, and policing.

Additionally, our focus is on developing students’ understanding of the practices of cybercriminals, and providing foundational insights into the structure and function of computers and the Internet. Individuals entering our degree program will leave with knowledge that will make them highly competitive and capable of taking on unique roles in law enforcement and related fields in both the public and private sector.

[] Michigan State University also offers a Master of Science in Law Enforcement Intelligence and Analysis. May we have more information about this program, including its coursework that covers essential topics in cyber security, cyber crime prevention and investigation, counterterrorism, advanced crime analysis, and criminal justice systems? How do students of this program explore the roles that data analysis, information technology, and network systems security play in effective law enforcement?

[Dr. Thomas Holt] Students in the LEIA program are exposed to a range of topics through their courses enabling them to build a comprehensive and foundational knowledge of the process of intelligence analysis and development of knowledge products related to such analyses. Students can also build an emphasis in various areas of study, including crime analysis using various data sources relevant to police agencies, open source data collection, and terror and extremism. These skills and course content directly intersect with cybercrime, cybersecurity, and digital forensics as modern threats all have some online footprint, whether via email, social media, or other online environments. Individuals in law enforcement, intelligence and related fields must have an understanding of the role of technology in modern crime and terror, and directly benefit from this degree.

Thank you, Dr. Thomas Holt, for your excellent insight into Michigan State University’s Graduate Certificate in Cyber Criminology and Cyber Security!