Strengthening the Cybersecurity Workforce
Article by Savannah Tranchell, University Communications & Marketing
Industry Partners Play Key Role in North Idaho-based Cybersecurity Training and Operations Center
Among the four components of the University of Idaho’s plan to address cybersecurity issues are increasing workforce training and graduating more students with computer science and engineering expertise.
Executing that mission is UI’s Cybersecurity Training and Operations Center (CTOC). Based in North Idaho, the CTOC has a statewide focus of working with industries to supply needed employee training in cybersecurity.
This fall, the CTOC opened its lab at the UI Research Park in Post Falls. The lab is supplied by a secure 1 gigabit-per-second fiber optic line, isolated from other university networks, which provides the ability to test scenarios and introduce security risks without impacting the university’s operations, said Karen Thurston, director of the CTOC.
The line was donated by fiber optic company Fatbeam. The $3.2 million donation includes two Fatbeam-owned private fibers and a long-term contract to provide 1-gigabit internet access for the research park.
“Today as you look at the cyber attacks on our government systems — like the FAA, large banking and retail corporations — it just hit me that the careers and jobs of the future are without question technology based and security is of the utmost importance,” said Greg Green, Fatbeam co-founder.
Fatbeam, headquartered in Coeur d’Alene, owns 338 miles of fiber in markets throughout Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and Oregon and is in the process designing and deploying another 200 miles in other Northwest markets.
“It was a natural extension for us to invest in the idea and donate fiber optics, internet access and human resources to the university,” Green said.
“High-speed optical fiber is required infrastructure for economic development today,” said Charles Buck, UI's associate vice president and executive officer of UI Coeur d'Alene. “This partnership and generous donation from Fatbeam will enable us to better support technology business development. Coupled with our middle and high school computer science training efforts to build tech awareness, workforce training in cybersecurity, and bachelor’s degree in computer science education, this gift will support an emerging tech strength right here in northern Idaho.”
Industry partnerships have been core to the CTOC since its inception. The center launched in April 2015 with the announcement that UI had received a $463,000 two-year grant from the Idaho Department of Labor to develop a cybersecurity training program. Among its original partners are Fatbeam, Idaho Power, Kootenai Health and Highpoint Medical. Since then, more than a dozen organizations — including the cities of Moscow, Pullman and Coeur d’Alene, banks, colleges and Hewlett Packard — have sent employees to CTOC trainings.
The program offers short-term training and preparation seminars for certification exams, on-the-job training and hands-on experience in the lab. The lab also serves as a resource for students enrolled in UI Coeur d’Alene’s new four-year computer science program, which is being offered in partnership with North Idaho College.
The reach of the lab goes beyond students and experts, though. Thurston — who has a master’s degree in computer science from California State University —also plans to collaborate with local businesses to demonstrate cybersecurity control measures in an effort to raise awareness of threats and vulnerabilities.
Last spring, the CTOC joined the National CyberWatch Center, a consortium of higher education institutions, public and private schools, businesses and government agencies focused on building and maintaining a stronger information assurance workforce. The partnership gives the center access to curriculum and lab resources, as well as the opportunity to collaborate on curriculum development.
So far, the CTOC has trained nearly 200 IT professionals, with the capacity to reach nearly 500 students during the two-year grant window. The training sessions are taught by cybersecurity experts, commercial training vendors and professional associations, such as the nonprofit Community Security Coalition. Some are offered free of charge or at low cost.
“We’re looking to be a community resource that provides more than just the traditional, semester-long, fee-based trainings,” Thurston said. “Wherever we can find good training, we’ll bring it in, whether it costs or not.”