There is a daunting challenge facing the United States beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the need for cybersecurity professionals. America is short nearly half a million of them.
Sensing both the urgency of the moment and the necessity for solutions, the nation’s top agencies have helped forge a plan to help, and it involves turning to higher education for help.
On Wednesday, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security designated the cybersecurity center at California State University, San Bernardino as the new National Center for Cybersecurity Education.
The university will receive a two-year, $10.5 million grant to “promote research in cyber defense and double the nation’s output of skilled cyber defense experts,” according to California State Rep. Pete Aguilar, who serves on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and the Defense and Homeland Security subcommittees and who helped make the historic announcement during a virtual meeting.
“We are deeply honored by the NSA’s designation of Cal State San Bernardino’s Cybersecurity Center as the Community National Center for Cybersecurity Education and its generous $10 million grant,” Cal State San Bernardino president TomÁ¡s Morales said. “It reflects not only on the outstanding work of our Cybersecurity Center, but also on our faculty and staffs’ overall commitment and enthusiasm in creating innovative and inclusive curriculum and programs that develop our diverse future leaders.”
The goal of the Center: grow a diverse and robust pipeline of those who can serve this country by becoming leaders in areas such as defense, intelligence, finance, agriculture, energy, transportation, telecommunications and manufacturing and by reducing vulnerabilities that exist in the current U.S. cybersecurity environment.
“We’re looking at a 500,000-person deficit,” said Tony Coulson, CSUSB professor and the new director of the National Center for Cybersecurity Education. “This is a very significant number, but it’s also a very absurd number. Imagine that we were short 500,000 nurses, or 500,000 first responders or 500,000 of anything. That’s a sign of a national emergency. It’s a problem that will not be solved overnight. It’s a problem that requires partnership. It’s a problem that requires not just specialized skills, but broad skills. It’s an all-person-on-deck problem.”
The selection of Cal State San Bernardino was not surprising given its work with both government agencies such as the NSA, Homeland Security, the National Science Foundation, National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, but its proximity to one of four cybersecurity centers in the U.S. and its work on campus. It has received more than $28 million in federal grants to date to research emerging issues and have its students attend national conferences and compete for scholarships. Three of those students were selected recently to receive full scholarships from the Department of Defense Cyber Scholarship Program (DoD CySp), which aims to protect the nation against threats on information systems and networks.
Under the direction of Coulson, its current Cybersecurity Center, part of the university’s Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration, has also been a leader in reaching out on collaborative projects with colleges and universities across the country.
On this new initiative, San Bernardino’s team will be working directly with more than 300 higher education institutions, including those it has worked with in the past – the University of Houston, University of Colorado, Carnegie Mellon, Towson University, the University of West Florida and the University of Texas, San Antonio, along with a number of community colleges.
“Have we ever seen 335 colleges and universities unite around something like this before?” Coulson asked. “They stand ready to serve. From 2015 to 2019, the number of students participating in the centers of academic excellence program rose from 19,000 to 97,000, which means we are doing our job correctly.”
The new National Center of Cybersecurity Education will also “manage three nationwide communities of practice and research and cyber defense operations along with supporting five regional cybersecurity hubs around the nation,” according to Coulson. Those Centers of Academic Excellence and Communities of Practice will be help coordinate cutting-edge research.
That should help both the students, the college communities they attend and the nation address that shortfall in personnel and infrastructure needed.
“We have a significant gap that we’re trying to fill,” said Diane Janosek, the NSA’s deputy commandant for its National Cryptologic School. “What we’re doing is vectoring and partnering across all those federal agencies. And we’re reaching out to premier elite academic institutions to help develop the next generation of cyber talent – having a partnership between academia and government – to build upon the foundation to build a qualified and diverse cyber workforce. And this workforce is going to be tapped across all 50 states. We’re developing this cadre to really service the nation, not just the federal sector.”
Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for University Business. He can be reached at [email protected]