Heather Fetty, a WVU computer science major, works with members of the West Virginia National Guard during Operation Locked Shield, an international cybersecurity training exercise.
(WVU Photo/Brian Persinger)
At the command center of a US Army base, a computer beeps and displays a warning: the electricity is out in a corner of the base. Cybersecurity experts take action. They make sure critical systems are on backup generators while they investigate the reason for the outage. One of them shows his screen and announces that the power grid information system has been compromised – a cyberattack is probably in progress.
Their teacher applauds.
A realistic simulation like this will be possible not only on military bases, but also in West Virginia University classrooms, thanks to a partnership with the U.S. Cyber Command Academic Engagement Network.
WVU is one of 84 educational institutions that will work closely with CYBERCOM, which is part of the US Department of Defense. Students will engage in applied research and innovation while gaining valuable cybersecurity workforce training.
That translates to a leadership advantage in a growing field, according to Anurag Srivastava, professor and chair of the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources.
“Cybersecurity is the fastest growing degree program in our department,” Srivastava said. “We always tell students that there are nearly half a million cybersecurity jobs open right now. It is here to stay and, in fact, to increase.
“An engagement like this opportunity with CYBERCOM will allow us to show students at least one very good application for what they are learning in the classroom: to help in national defense,” Srivastava said.
Students can also specialize in cybersecurity at John Chambers College of Business and Economics, from the management information systems approach.
“While we cover a variety of security strategies and technologies in our courses, we really focus on teaching students how to effectively solve cybersecurity problems,” said Chris Ramezan, assistant professor of cybersecurity at Chambers College. “Not only are we trying to resolve technical issues, we are trying to do so in a way that supports the business mission. Developing solutions to address security issues is one thing, but ensuring that each solution works in a way that supports the organization’s mission is another.
Computer science and business school majors will have access to CYBERCOM’s academic partnership, including the expertise of some of the nation’s foremost cybersecurity experts and prestigious civilian internship opportunities.
The students also hope to collaborate and learn more from each other. “Our students want more choice, more choices, including business courses at Chambers,” Srivastava said. “We usually look at the ininfrastructure and operational side and they look at the commercial and informational side.
This is where learning labs come in. Student teams can see how many ways a system can be compromised, find its vulnerabilities or weak spots, and develop appropriate defenses.
“In cybersecurity, hands-on experience is invaluable,” Ramezan said. “Classroom learning is great – it gives students that foundational knowledge and provides them with the environment to hone their cybersecurity skills. But being able to learn by doing, applying knowledge across problem sets real-world cybersecurity, is truly essential for any future cybersecurity professional.
Intercollegiate experiences also result in the development of leadership and teamwork skills, as seen in last spring’s off-class cyber competition, Locked Shields. WVU students from engineering, business, law, and media schools cooperated with the West Virginia National Guard and Polish allies to defend a fictional country. Their hard work led Team USA to their best placing in the exercise.
“It has built students’ confidence that they can participate and have an impact and that they can use the knowledge learned in the classroom to contribute to issues of national importance,” Srivastava said.
Locked Shields also put WVU on CYBERCOM’s radar, Ramezan said.
“The genesis of CYBERCOM’s initiative was to leverage talent in university spaces that they hadn’t considered using before,” he said. “Most of the time, they consult major IT consulting service providers or use their own talents. This will create new conduits for academic talent from Statler and Chambers colleges to contribute.
“The size and scope of US CYBERCOM is unparalleled – the largest in the world,” Ramezan said, adding that students will be able to work with complex datasets and overcome challenges.
Srivastava plans to give students access to more frequent live-fire exercises like Locked Shields via CYBERCOM, such as simulated attacks on critical infrastructure or utilities.
“We are excited to put some of our undergraduate and graduate students interested in research in the Lane Department on problem sets of national significance,” he said.
Lane department faculty members who focus on cybersecurity include Katerina Goseva-Popstojanova, Tom Devine, and Dave Krovich.
WVU has held National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education and Cyber Defense Research since 2006.
MEDIA CONTACT: Heather Richardson
Associate Dean of Communications, Engagement and Impact
John Chambers College of Commerce and Economics
304-293-9625; [email protected]
Marketing and Communications Director
Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304-293-4135; [email protected]
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