Cybersecurity: A Threat That Keeps On Growing

With ransomware emerging as a top national security threat, locations with strong cybersecurity sectors are racing to fill a shortage in skilled workers that is leaving half of the industry's job openings unfilled.


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With ransomware emerging as a top national security threat, locations with strong cybersecurity sectors are racing to fill a shortage in skilled workers that is leaving half of the industry's job openings unfilled.
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Cybersecurity: A Threat That Keeps On Growing

With ransomware emerging as a top national security threat, locations with strong cybersecurity sectors are racing to fill a shortage in skilled workers that is leaving half of the industry's job openings unfilled.

Cybersecurity: A Threat That Keeps On Growing

By the BF Staff
From the September/October 2021 Issue

According to CyberSeek.org’s 2021 interactive map, there are nearly 1 million people employed in cybersecurity-related jobs in the U.S.—but almost a half-million job openings waiting to be filled. CyberSeek keeps track of employment in more than a dozen key cyber jobs, including software developers, network engineers, cybersecurity managers and penetration/vulnerability experts.

The states with the largest number of available cybersecurity positions included California, Texas and Virginia, which respectively had 55,487, 42,469 and 49,151 cyber related job openings as of March.

The U.S. government is struggling to hire cybersecurity workers at the same time it is facing an unprecedented slate of hacking threats. The dearth of cyber workers is making it harder to protect government data from being stolen by adversaries and is diminishing the ability to help improve cybersecurity in industries vital to national and economic security. It also worsens the dangers posed by the government’s notoriously outdated technology systems.

Top officials have described the slow pace of cyber hiring as a national security threat. The government’s cyber workforce has grown by about 8 percent since 2016. A hiring sprint at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) resulted in nearly 300 new cyber hires and about 500 more job offers between May and July.

But that’s nowhere near sufficient to meet the threats. By DHS’s own calculations, there are about 1,700 more cybersecurity vacancies it needs to fill at the department.

“We need leadership to pay attention and to see it as their responsibility to own getting the right [cyber] talent into government, and by and large they don’t do that and it’s a big problem,” Max Stier, head of the Partnership for Public Service, told lawmakers during a House Homeland Security Committee hearing on cyber hiring.

SAN ANTONIO: CYBER CITY USA

Cyber threats are a real and ever-present danger for businesses and organizations globally. In San Antonio, the powerful and creative minds driving cyber advancement are also ever-present. So are the unique public/private partnerships that defeat those threats. From nurturing the business of cybersecurity and working directly with the U.S. Military, to redefining workforce development to match the industry’s changing dynamics, the Greater San Antonio region is proud to have solidified its leading role as the epicenter of cybersecurity’s evolution and the nation’s top Cyber City.

cybersecurity
The University of Texas at San Antonio’s School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center bolsters San Antonio’s national standing as the Cyber City. (Photo: George Mason University)

San Antonio has a sustainable, multidisciplinary workforce that includes the highest concentration of certified cyber professionals outside D.C. and an outsized cluster of tech professionals specializing in cloud infrastructure and cyber. The University of Texas at San Antonio’s (UTSA) top data science program is expanding downtown to inject 6,000 graduates into the workforce pipeline every year. San Antonio’s more than 100 private-sector cyber companies employ more than 16,000, and sources estimate that upwards of 80,000 could be employed by various government agencies across the region.

Since 1948 when the U.S. Air Force established its Security Service operations in San Antonio, the region’s ability to collaborate across the military, industry, and academia has grown the nation’s leading cybersecurity hub. Not only is the region home to the 16th Air Force (Air Forces Cyber), headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, it is across the runway from Port San Antonio’s innovation campus—a cross-section of Department of Defense (DoD) and private sector collaboration. Additionally, the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Texas Cryptologic Center is based in San Antonio, where the agency conducts worldwide signals intelligence, cyberspace, and cybersecurity operations.

With the Military as a foundational part of San Antonio’s economy and massive headquarters who serve them, like United Services Automobile Association (USAA), San Antonio is a natural testing ground for technology, processes, systems modernization, education, and every other aspect of the cyber industry. Companies like Accenture not only operate here, they thrive here, playing an active role in building the future cybersecurity workforce.

“San Antonio is rapidly becoming one of the most important technology hubs in the United States,” said Ben Peavy, Chief Information Officer for Accenture Federal Services and Accenture’s office managing director in San Antonio. “By investing in internships, apprenticeships and other professional-development opportunities for local students and workers, and by creating well-paying jobs in the community, Accenture Federal Services is helping build a next-generation federal technology workforce here in the heart of San Antonio.”

Port San Antonio serves as the region’s technology innovation destination and plays a critical role in the community’s cyber ecosystem. The Port’s 1,900-acre campus is home to 15,000 professionals and 80 employers, including industry leaders like Boeing, Booz Allen Hamilton, StandardAero, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman, as well as major DoD headquarters and other national security operations. Key global sectors connected through the Port’s technology campus include aerospace, energy, defense, cybersecurity, robotics, education, applied technology, manufacturing, and supply-chain logistics.

Scheduled for completion in early 2022, Port San Antonio’s state-of-the-art innovation center—Tech Port Center + Arena—will allow the community, entrepreneurs, educators, and employers to come together to strengthen the region’s technology ecosystem, collaboratively develop new solutions, and market them to industries around the world. The center will include an industry showroom, technology museum, maker/R&D space, and a technology arena and convention space.

cybersecurity
San Antonio-based CNF Technologies is one of the nation’s fastest-growing cybersecurity companies, with expertise in protecting our nation’s critical infrastructure. (Photo: CNF Technologies / Port San Antonio)

“By building an ecosystem in that is exciting and easily accessible to individuals across our region and around the world, the Port and our partners seek to empower people so they can be part of that tidal change. On our campus and across San Antonio, they can build their futures in education, in their careers and as entrepreneurs. In the process, San Antonio is becoming shorthand as the place where innovative technologies are developed that make the world a safer, more productive and more resilient place,” said Jim Perschbach, Port San Antonio president & CEO.

The region’s largest university, UTSA, has developed a robust, collaborative research ecosystem directly related to cyber. UTSA’s new School of Data Science and National Security Collaboration Center Building is set to open in the heart of downtown San Antonio in 2022. The School of Data Science will be the first of its kind in Texas, and a key component in UTSA’s phased, 10-year approach toward its development as a destination for producing highly skilled professionals in data science and analytics. UTSA’s National Security Collaboration Center (NSCC) is leading the effort to increase collaboration among government, industry, and academia to overcome the most significant challenges and threats to national security. UTSA is already recognized for the top-ranked cybersecurity degree program in the nation (Hewlett-Packard/Ponemon Institute) and is one of only a few universities in the nation—and the only Hispanic Serving Institution–to hold three National Center of Excellence designations from the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Through the School of Data Science, UTSA is bringing remarkably diverse student talent forward to excel in academia, government and industry, perhaps most notably at the intersection of data science and cybersecurity,” said David Mongeau, Executive Director, UTSA School of Data Science.

The San Antonio region fosters a cyber ecosystem where businesses and individuals can thrive, supported by a job-ready workforce. The region creates a supportive environment for military, government, and academic collaboration, encourages private-sector growth, and nurtures the connectivity and infrastructure needed to succeed. San Antonio is proud to continue building on its legacy as Cyber City USA.

VIRGINIA: NEW APPROACH TO CYBER COLLABORATION

Focused on cyber defenses and talent development, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative is cementing Virginia’s position as a global leader in cybersecurity research and innovation.

2020 saw a number of records broken when it comes to the amount of data lost in cyberattacks. Damages from these attacks are projected to carry a global cost of $6 trillion annually, up from $3 trillion in 2015, reports Cybersecurity Ventures—and it’s only going to go up from here.

George Mason University
The Cyber Living Innovation Lab at George Mason University houses robotic platforms to evaluate 5G performance and a fleet of driverless cars that provide experiential learning experiences for students. (Photo: George Mason University)

“With the explosion in the use of artificial intelligence and more and more devices like drones and sensors being connected to the network, the threat surface also expands,” said Luiz DaSilva, executive director of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI), a state-backed network that supports collaborative research across universities, government entities, and private industry. “We need to harden our systems to defend against a whole new generation of attacks.”

Strengthening Virginia’s approach to cybersecurity against these new types of attacks is one part of the mission driving CCI. The program was established in 2018 to secure Virginia’s place as a global center of excellence for research and innovation around cybersecurity technologies. Research supported by the initiative is seeking to expand innovation and entrepreneurship around autonomous systems, artificial intelligence (AI), 5G applications, and entirely new approaches to cybersecurity.

“CCI researchers have been working on preventing and defending against a number of attacks on our critical infrastructure, from the power grid to agriculture to communication networks,” DaSilva said. As for the other component of the initiative’s mission? It’s all about ramping up talent development within the Commonwealth to support the tremendous demand for cybersecurity expertise.

CCI’s cybersecurity research spans a wide range of topics, some well beyond a traditional IT approach. To date, CCI has funded more than 30 research proposals through multimillion-dollar cybersecurity research collaboration grants. Researchers are investigating cybersecurity needs in terms of new technologies, but they’re also exploring these needs through unique regional lenses.

Because each region of Virginia faces different risks and unique workforce development needs, CCI has taken a hub and node approach to its organization. The hub, located in Arlington County, coordinates the entire network, while each of the four regional nodes are focused on a specific region. For example, cybersecurity in the maritime and defense industries is an area of focus at the Coastal Virginia node. Cybermanufacturing is of particular interest at the Northern Virginia node, leveraging nearby organizations including the Cybersecurity Manufacturing.

Innovation Institute and the National Association of Manufacturers. Cybersecurity for agricultural applications is a major priority for the Southwest Virginia node, which covers a largely rural corner of the Commonwealth.

Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) is the lead of the Central Virginia node, which focuses in part on medical device security—protecting internet-connected devices such as patient monitors, CPAP machines, and glucose monitors. Connected medical devices can help patients receive care that is safer and timelier, but are vulnerable to security breaches.

“Many of our researchers throughout the Central Virginia region have been tackling these topics for years,” said Erdem Topsakal, director of the Central Virginia node and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at VCU, “but with the encouragement of CCI, we are now working together across institutions and building strong collaborative efforts across the region and the state. These topics are having impacts on people’s lives right now. With the support of CCI, we’re able to pursue research that really makes a difference.”

Gretchen Matthews, director of the Southwest Virginia node and professor of mathematics at Virginia Tech, notes that CCI Southwest-funded projects are creating experiential learning opportunities that put students at the forefront of providing cyber solutions in rural environments.

“Transferring data captured by sensors for livestock, crops, and environmental assessments and autonomous and robotic systems is challenging due to networking infrastructure and limitations,” she said. As such, the node is focused on addressing networking infrastructure through designs that are sensitive to environmental and agricultural needs.

A current Coastal Virginia CCI-led research initiative brings together partners from Old Dominion University (ODU), Virginia Tech, and the defense industry in developing a backdoor detection and mitigation system for the neural networks within AI-supported combat systems. Data has become a critical part of modern warfare, but greater adoption of AI means new vulnerabilities to cyberattack. Bringing together armed forces expertise with university researchers makes an even stronger value case, because it builds critical skills among local students soon to seek employment from local defense partners.

“Our students benefit from the knowledge they acquire from their internships, our business partners benefit from the ability to hire experienced graduates as well as the opportunity to access up-to-date information, and faculty and researchers benefit from the insight provided by our industrial partners,” said Brian Payne, vice provost for academic affairs at ODU and director of the Coastal Virginia CCI node. CCI is also supporting innovators in getting critical technology advancements to market. It’s scaling a program to the whole state that will provide inventors within CCI universities and colleges with bridge funding toward commercializing their inventions.

This regional approach has also helped employers position their organizations to appeal to the local workforce.

“We’ve had success in hiring systems engineers and security engineers, but struggle to find qualified software engineers,” said Tracy Gregorio, CEO at G2 Ops Inc. in Virginia Beach and a member of the CCI technical advisory board. CCI is helping each of Virginia’s regions to better compete against other states with strong technology centers by training and hiring local experts.

Virginia has the highest concentration of cybersecurity workers of any state—nearly five times the national average—according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education’s CyberSeek tool. Even so, the Commonwealth is not immune to the talent gap affecting the rest of the country.

cybersecurity
The Cyber Living Innovation Lab is located on George Mason University’s Arlington campus, part of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative’s Northern Virginia node. (Photo: George Mason University)

“CCI’s objective is to ensure a sufficient supply of cyber talent, with a particular focus on diversity and multidisciplinarity, and to form professionals who have rich hands-on experience,” DaSilva said.

CCI is working to incentivize students from a broader array of disciplines to understand how their work can impact cybersecurity projects. This has meant involving faculty and students in geography, political science, and communications, among a range of other fields, including the arts.

Through the Building Bridges Arts and Design Collaboration Program, CCI is specifically engaging researchers within the arts to depict the results of cybersecurity research for both scientific and creative purposes. For example, a multimedia gallery at George Mason University, will display images, audio, and text fragments taken from smartphones to demonstrate the ease of recovering deleted data.

Other projects approach technology through the lens of music, dance, and gaming. These efforts are nods to both the pervasiveness of data in all aspects of life and strategies for broadening awareness of cybersecurity beyond the traditional IT focus.

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