We've starting to see advertisements for a new kind of position: privacy engineer.

If you've seen the classic movie, The Graduate, you'll remember the conversation that recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock has with a friend of his father, who says "I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. … Are you listening? … Plastics.". Today, 45 years later, that one word might be Privacy.

Our lives are increasingly being lived online through social media systems, cloud based services, smart phones and other ubiquitous computing and sensing devices. Your smart phone, it's common to hear, knows more about you than your spouse or Mom. Data about us is being collected minute by minute, aggregated, integrated, analyzed, bought and sold.  At the same time, we have develped powerful new datamining and machine learning techniques that, together with parallel computing, can  extract surprising amounts of information and knowledge from the data. 

This data can be put to good uses, such as providing you with better services, but can also result in a loss of privacy. Businesses and other organizations want to avoid a backlash in which they lose customers concerned about their privacy. We've seen recent ads for privacy engineers, such as these from Apple , Google and Intel. This is just a sample, many more exist, although the job title may be different.

The job of a privacy engineer doesn't yet have a well defined consensus description, but the focus is on designing an organization's information privacy policy and helping to ensure that it is accurately described and enforced.  High level tasks include (i) protecting data from unauthorized access, use or disclosure (ii) providing users with appropriate tools to both understand and control what information is collected and how it is shared and used; and (iii) recognizing how the data can be usefully mined without revealing private information.

What courses can a UMBC undergraduate take to prepare for positions like these? After getting a good grounding in the required computer science or computer engineering courses, undergrads can take classes in the fundamentals of security (CMSC 426 and CMSC 487), information assurance (CMSC 444), and cryptography (CMSC 443), take a course in databases (CMSC 461),  datamining and machine learning (CMSC 478) and/or visualization (CMSC 436), and perhaps mobile computing (CMSC 628). Interested students should also look for special topics course, like Security and Privacy in a Mobile Social World which is being offered this semester.  We also have several research labs that work in privacy-related areas, including the Cyber Defense, Coral, Ebiquity, Diadic and Maple labs.