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Cyber Soldiers

Sep 05, 2012 12:51PM ● By Anonymous

Even more recently, this past July saw the end of the FBI’s cyber safety net, erected last November to protect some 577,000 Windows PC, from the DNS Changer virus.

With 119,296,000 American households owning a personal computer (according the 2010 U.S. Census), our protection of personal information from threatening viruses, bugs, and, malware has never been so important. Ditto for our military systems, which rely heavily on emerging technology.

Internationally, the link between government cyber warfare and household protection is located right here. It’s an exciting time on the business horizon in the area. Part of that excitement may include both trepidation and promise.

Much of the reason for the buzz is the presence of the U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade, which was established in 2009 to centralize command of cyberspace operations and organize existing cyber resources while synchronizing defense of U.S. military networks.

While the establishment of the command was a big step forward, the next hurdle is training workers for the industry. By the estimate of the Bethesda-based SANS Institute, the U.S. needs 20,000 to 30,000 cyber experts—but employs just 1,000.

Trying to assess the extensive goings-on within the Baltimore- Washington region’s burgeoning cybersecurity industry is a daunting task. It seems new partnerships are being formed daily whenever a company expands or new educational opportunities for students arise.

While much of the talk centers around the recent Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) on post, the establishment of the Cyber Command underscores the volume of cyber threats that occur not only in defense, but in virtually every industry—banking, energy, and health care—which only drives the need for workers and training even more.

Reading, Writing, Cyber Training

On that note, the news of Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) opening its new (almost) 30,000-square-foot Center for Cyber and Professional Training on August 1st (at 7556 Teague Road, across the road from Arundel Mills), has received considerable local buzz.

The center represents a “significant capital investment” to the college, says Kip Kunsman, director of the cybercenter for AACC. “Our sole purpose is to create a new pipeline of workers while serving as a resource to the incumbent workforce to upgrade their knowledge, skill, and capabilities to help them remain competitive.”

Kunsman says that AACC has been looking to expand its initiatives since the cyber program was established in 2005; the cyber center at the Arnold campus was established in 2010. The new facility will have 13 cybersecurity labs, including penetration and defense, digital forensics, CISCO, and some general cybersecurity labs. It will also contain faculty and staff offices, a certified testing center and a student center, as well as two conference rooms.

The college is moving the center closer to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport to be nearer to its clientele. “Everything is happening in West County,” he says. “That’s where NSA is, as well as its clients and vendors.”

The Hacker's Mindset

The AACC facility will open roughly a year after a private sector corporation opened its own cyber center to train its employees; about a mile away from AACC’s new facility, Annapolis-based TeleCommunication Systems (TCS) opened the Art of Exploitation University.

“AACC is a leader for best practices,” says Drew Morin, chief technology officer for TCS. “They have the funding with a grant to establish best practices in cyber education.

“Then you have companies like ours and the defense contractors, and many, many others, that do business with NSA and the U.S. Cyber Command,” Morin says, noting TCS will use its Art of Exploitation curriculum “to teach offensive and defensive techniques, as our students learn how to understand the way these people (hackers, etc.) think.

“These people are all virtual,” he says. “They’re basically just a bunch of handles (screen names) out in cyberspace, and that makes it difficult to track them down, then couple that with our increasing dependence on data.

“We’re doing all kinds of things on our smart phones, including banking, shopping, surfing the web, e-mailing and using social media,” says Morin, “and we’re getting more and more dependent on that information. In a typical home, people have not just smartphones, but video players, tablets, TV box controllers, and game systems.”

The big difference right now, he says, is that the population is beginning to share the information with everyone, “including academia, private industry, and the government,” he says. “Today, all are on board and learning how to participate.”

Partnering with Academia

Training the students to fill the needs of today’s workforce is crucial, but creating companies that will help fight this new kind of Cold War is of equal importance. That’s why bwtech@UMBC’s cybersecurity activities continue to grow.

“We currently have 33 cybersecurity tenants and five cyber affiliates at the park,” says Executive Director Ellen Hemmerly. “Our cyber incubator is more than 90 percent occupied with 18 companies, and UMBC Training Centers recently expanded its Center for Cybersecurity Training into a new 12,400-square-foot facility in Howard County.”

Hemmerly said that she and her colleagues at bwtech@UMBC (yes, that is the name of the center) are continuing to see more attention being paid to cybersecurity by startup and established IT companies.

“Additionally, we are seeing more out-of-state companies establishing a presence in Maryland, as the state’s efforts in cybersecurity become better known.”

That sounds like it’s time for further expansion. “At bwtech@UMBC, we’re hoping to expand our cyber incubator space, as we will be out of room,” she says. “The expansion would include the establishment of more collaboration space, or a place where large and small companies can connect with UMBC faculty and students.”

On that note, Brian Darmody, special assistant vice chancellor for technology development with the University System of Maryland (USM), pointed out that a cybersecurity report was issued last year that documented that the system offers 53 bachelor degrees, 33 master degree, and nine doctoral programs “related to a range of needs within the cyber sector,” he says.

At the College Park campus, for instance, USM just launched an executive master program in cybersecurity engineering and the Smith Business School offered a cybersecurity leadership orientation boot camp on August 25th in conjunction with SAIC.

Also citing the new NIST Center of Excellence in Cyber Security as an “important linkage” in the civilian side of cybersecurity, Darmody discusses where graduates may look for their first major post-university employment.

“In a recession, getting a job with the government is clearly an option many students will consider,” he says. “If the economy recovers, that will give potentially [security] clearable students with computer science or engineering degrees more career options.

“That might mean the shortage of cleared or clearable professionals may grow,” Darmody said, “but on the other hand, at the University of Maryland, at other universities in the state, and nationally, we’re seeing growth in computer science and computer engineering enrollments. That bodes well for meeting the demand from both civilian and government sectors for clearable cyber employees.”

'A Dangerous Time'

That’s the kind of enrollment news AACC wants to continue to report from its new cyber center, too.

“The value of AACC is that it not only trains young students on a traditional educational trajectory,” says Mark Powell, CEO of Argo Systems and a member of the AACC Foundation board “but it is extremely valuable in that it also allows workers who are already in the workforce to augment their skills or to change their career.”

So, AACC is filling a need and local employers are starting to discover a more ample supply of workers to address their job needs. “Cyber is becoming a native industry of Central Maryland and we need trained quality workers to fill that pipeline,” says Powell. “This is serious. It’s about supporting our national security.”

Morin concurred. “The key point is that we are in a dangerous time. However, there is much that is happening in the cyber industry,” he says, “and it’s my longer term prediction that technology will advance to the point that we will be able to manage the threat.

“But meanwhile,” he says, “we need to remain vigilant, learn, and progress.”

Mark Smith is a frequent contributor to What’s Up? Media and regularly covers the West County region’s history, projects, and programs.