UTSA Gets $5M National Science Foundation Grant for Cybersecurity Center

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Justin Gray works during the 2015 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

UTSA student Justin Gray (center) works with his team during the 2015 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in April 2015.

With a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the University of Texas at San Antonio will tackle one of the 21st century’s imminent concerns: securing the cloud. The Center for Security and Privacy Enhanced Cloud Computing (C-SPECC) will bring together the science, engineering, education, and business colleges within UTSA to recruit students while still in high school, train them, and guide them into high-demand cybersecurity jobs in the public and private sector.

The university has been widely recognized for its leadership in the cybersecurity field since it first began developing the program in 2001. In 2008, the university’s first cloud security laboratory opened through the Institute for Cyber Security, and in 2015 announced a partnership with Rackspace to form the Open Cloud Institute to expand that study to big data. UTSA has the largest open-cloud platform of any university in the country. The platform allows for real-world testing scenarios and development in both cybersecurity and cloud technology development.

The Ponemon Institute, which is dedicated to data protection and information security policy, identified UTSA in 2014 as the nation’s leading cybersecurity program.

Cloud computing can be susceptible to cyberattack as information is moved on and off of the cloud. The new center will be devoted to the growing needs for skilled workers who can address the next set of challenges, the university said.

“For nearly two decades, UTSA has been a national leader in cybersecurity, a dynamic field that requires an equally nimble approach from academia, government, and industry,” stated UTSA President Taylor Eighmy in a press release Tuesday. “Creating a place where UTSA can expand its cybersecurity focus and apply its vast expertise to cloud computing will enable the university to make meaningful contributions with a practical impact.”

The new center will be led by Ravi Sandhu, the founding executive director of the UTSA Institute for Cyber Security and a professor of computer science. Joining him will be researchers from UTSA colleges of science, engineering, education, and business including Nicole Beebe, associate professor of information systems and cybersecurity; Guadalupe Carmona-Dominguez, associate professor of interdisciplinary learning; Ram Krishnan, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Jeff Prevost, assistant professor of electrical engineering.

The constantly expanding needs of the cloud-based economy will open up strong job opportunities for students, Sandhu said. A report conducted for the information security nonprofit (ISC)2 Foundation predicted that 1.5 million cybersecurity jobs will go unfilled by the year 2020 worldwide.

“If we want to fill 1.5 million jobs, we need to begin recruiting smart kids and giving them the opportunity to experience a security career first hand,” Sandhu said.

To do that, UTSA is working with Northside Independent School District’s Warren High School, Taft High School, Harlan High School, and Business Careers High School. Through the C-SPECC Scholars program, high school students can learn about cybersecurity through internships, mentor programs, and certificate programs. Industry partners Rackspace and National Institute of Standards and Technology and NSS Labs, an Austin-based security testing and analysis company, will provide those internships to high school and college students, and recruit from the C-SPECC pipeline for new hires.

The growing demand and high salaries in the cybersecurity field has also led Texas A&M University-San Antonio to invest in its cybersecurity program. The National Security Agency has redesignated the Southside university as a National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE) through the year 2022.

The TAMU-SA program focuses on business-based cybersecurity. As more commerce is conducted online, vulnerability to hacks and cyberattacks have become a concern for businesses of all sizes.

“We know that cybersecurity – in and of itself – does not deliver optimum value unless it’s woven into the fabric of a business,” said Akhtar Lodgher, chair of TAMU-SA’s department of computing and cyber security and director of the university’s Center for Information Technology and Cyber Security. “That’s why we infuse cybersecurity into everything we teach. Our unique model empowers students to leverage cybersecurity as a competitive advantage instead of just an ‘add-on’ IT function.”

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