Efforts to advance the cyber security program in Bridgewater State University have expanded into a statewide, university-based cyber protection program.
State and federal grants totaling more than $18 million have been allocated to create the Commonwealth Cyber Consortiumwhich will build cybersecurity polygons and security operations centers at colleges and universities in four regions of the state.
Supplemental academic programs will help fill the state’s dire need for cyber security specialists and provide security for municipalities and businesses throughout Massachusetts. The grants will fund the programs for three to five years, until the consortium can become self-sufficient.
Plan for the future:Burlington will begin building cybersecurity infrastructure
former state senator vinny de macedoof Plymouth, now special adviser to the president of Bridgewater State University, played a critical role in building the program after leaving the Legislature two years ago.
By promoting the program for BSU, deMacedo was able to show state and federal officials how the project could help protect the entire state from the growing threat posed by hackers.
“This has evolved way beyond what we expected, but on a state and national level, it’s very important,” deMacedo said.
Financing the fight:Marion will receive a Cyber Security Awareness Grant
Bridgewater State led the way by deciding to expand its own cyber security program.
The school has long offered a minor as well as a master’s certificate in cybersecurity, but Steve Zuromski, the school’s vice president of information technology and chief information officer, had been working on more when deMacedo joined the school two years ago.
Together, they presented their plan to lawmakers and secured a $250,000 state grant to begin planning a cybersecurity range where students and IT professionals could experience simulated cybersecurity threats.
Federal funding for cyber range
A $2 million federal grant secured by Senator Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, recently funded construction of the shooting range, which will be modeled after a cyber rank at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The 1,500-square-foot field will be built in the school’s Dana Mohler-Faria Math and Science Center and will feature a 24-seat tiered classroom with dual desktop monitors and an 18-foot-wide main screen.
‘Defend the community’:Digital Boom Sparks Cybersecurity Job Growth Amid Cybercrime Wave
The range will allow instructors to simulate cyber attacks from anywhere in the world and increase the pressure by increasing distractions and room temperature. With newly secured funding, the school now expects the cyber range to open alongside a newly created cyber security major next January.
But in speaking with state officials, deMacedo and Zuromski were also able to find support for the broader program through the state’s new Commonwealth Cyber Consortium.
State takes a step forward
The state Legislature appropriated $1.5 million to create the statewide initiative last year and has since earmarked $15 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to launch regional programs in three other regions of the state, besides Bridgewater.
In addition, the grants will fund the creation of security operations centers, where students will fill cybersecurity positions for municipalities and businesses around the clock.
DeMacedo said the centers are planned for Framingham State University and Massachusetts Bay Community College in the MetroWest region and Springfield Technical Community College and Bay Path University in Western Massachusetts. UMass-Lowell is considered a potential site for the North Shore program.
Meeting the need, diversifying the workforce
DeMacedo said the program will help fill the need for cybersecurity specialists, which stands at 17,000 openings in Massachusetts alone and 600,000 nationwide.
Once operational, the program will provide academic instruction, cyber scoping simulations, and hands-on work experience in security operations centers.
Zuromski said state college programs will go a long way toward creating a more diversified workforce in a field that is currently dominated by white men.
Zuromski compared the cyber range to a flight simulator for pilots, saying it offers students the opportunity to learn by responding to virtual scenarios, before handling critical situations. Those same students will act as cybersecurity trainees in security operations centers (SOCs).
DeMacedo said the biggest challenge will be making the program self-sustaining.
State and federal grants will finance operations for three to five years, but eventually the consortium will have to pay its own expenses.
Bridgewater State has already partnered with Plymouth County to put that goal in motion.
Plymouth County Treasurer Tom O’Brien said county commissioners have embraced the program and will help businesses and municipalities in the county’s 27 communities bring employees to school-based training programs.
Those same cities and agencies could also choose to encrypt their day-to-day operations and move them through cloud computing technology to SOCs for ongoing monitoring of cyber threats.
O’Brien said the county immediately recognized an opportunity to help protect municipalities from cyber threats.
“Cyber security is a major issue, not just here in Massachusetts, but around the world, and often the city government is a bit behind with the latest technological resources to fight those who would try to steal computerized data,” he said, noting attacks. of ransomware in cities across the country and the region.
O’Brien said the county will help coordinate training programs through the college for municipalities. Those same training programs, including work on the cyber range simulator, would also be available to private companies.
“It seems like we’re a little more sophisticated in Massachusetts and Plymouth County, but that doesn’t mean hackers don’t try to access municipal and government data every day,” O’Brien said. “Anything we can do to stay ahead of the curve we need to stay focused on.”