Securing America’s cyberfuture goal of new Cyber Security Institute

Securing America’s cyberfuture goal of new Cyber Security Institute

Cyber Monday shoppers may think about security risks online, but a new institute is tackling cyber security on a far bigger and more dangerous scale.

The key to a strong national cyber security defense: More trained professionals.

SAN DIEGO, Nov. 30, 2015 – Cybersecurity protection of our digital information is a top concern among American consumers, business leaders and government officials, and for good reason.

The Ponemon Institute, a cybersecurity research firm, found that half of all Americans had personal information exposed by cyberattacks between May 2013 and May 2014. The U.S Government Accountability Office reports cybersecurity incidents at federal agencies increased a mind-blowing 780 between 2006 and 2012.

To hold back the rising tide of cybersecurity breaches by meeting the demand for trained professionals in the field, the University of San Diego has announced the creation of the national Center for Cyber Security Engineering and Technology to address these challenges through education, training and research.

The program is being led and developed by Dr. Winnie Callahan, an educator with 20 years of experience at the University of Nebraska and the University of Southern California. She brings together experts in national defense, business, information technology and education to train a new generation of cybersecurity professionals.

Dr. Callahan comes from a family dedicated to military service. Her late husband was a U.S. Army Green Beret. To Dr. Callahan, the threat to the U.S. cannot be overstated. “I love this country. I feel like cybersecurity is a real Achilles’ heel for us,” said Dr. Callahan. “You only need listen to the media; you can’t avoid it. We’re not doing well.”

“Nation states and organized crime and even street criminals are finding it quite lucrative to use cybercrime to do nefarious deeds, because their chances of getting caught is reduced and their odds of wins are increased,” added Dr. Callahan.

As a result of the increasing threat, the demand for cybersecurity jobs is growing at 12 times the overall job market. A Stanford University report analyzed U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics trends and found listings for cybersecurity jobs are up 74 percent in the last five years. The demand for information security professionals is expected to grow by 53 percent through 2018.

Dr. Winnie Callahan leads the new University of San Diego has announced the creation of the national Center for Cyber Security Engineering and Technology. Photo: Courtesy USD
Dr. Winnie Callahan leads the new national Center for Cyber Security Engineering and Technology at the University of San Diego. (Photo: Courtesy USD)

Callahan says the quest for business success has created a mindset about cybersecurity that puts expediency in getting to market first above created secure systems. “We’ve been through a period where making the software or hardware secure was something you thought of after the fact. When we realize the vulnerabilities, we patch it and pray. We’ve not been real smart as a nation because I think we’ve been a bit greedy about the economic wins of being first to market. So right now we’re kind of in a mess,” she admitted.

More than 209,000 cybersecurity jobs in the U.S. are unfilled. To begin addressing the problem, Callahan says we must train more people to work in the field of cybersecurity, and she was drawn to San Diego due to its confluence its military presence, its strong technology workforce and workforce pipeline, and the interest by business and political leaders in making the city a worldwide center of excellence for cybersecurity. “I’d heard this for two or three years. I thought, wow, wouldn’t that be fun, where you have a whole city pulling in one direction and a whole bunch of resources working with you?” said Callahan.

She said USD campus leaders, including provost Dr. Andrew T. Allen, were excited about bringing such a program to life. “They didn’t offer anything in the cyber arena and they wished they did. I said to the provost, ‘Sir, you’ve got to make this work. It’s meant to be!”

The USD program will offer two master’s degrees starting in 2016: cybersecurity operations and leadership, intended for senior technical and managerial professionals; and cyber security engineering, an advanced degree specifically for engineers. A third master’s degree, cyber law and policy, will be rolled out in summer 2016. Callahan said this is a very positive and popular idea among judges and legal professionals trying to navigate a Wild West of legal policy not completely equipped to keep up with technology.

She says the program is being created with the input of many experts outside of academia and is intended to be nimble. “We are doing things right and over the long term, we don’t sit on our laurels and we are always asking professionals, corporate heads, governments, and military, what should we change? Our program advisory group needs to be broad based. What are we doing well? What can we fix? As long as we are really sincere in getting input and hearing it, and acting on it, I’m confident we can turn out a good product.”

“I am so pumped about this program! I am so excited about what we’re doing, being here and really understand we can win this fight,” said Callahan. “And there are people committed to do it. To be a small part of that, that’s awesome.”

Thomas A. Baer, U.S. Department of Homeland Security deputy director of the National Cyber Security and Communications Integration Center, said, “I know of no other school using a total immersion strategy to educate cyber professionals. This strategy is the most efficient and effective way to teach cyber security and serves as a model for the nation.”

We can do our part to prevent cyber crime by practicing good “cyber hygiene” and to avoid inviting attacks by providing low hanging fruit for cyber criminals.
We can do our part to prevent cyber crime by practicing good “cyber hygiene” and to avoid inviting attacks by providing low-hanging fruit for cyber criminals.

Callahan said winning the war on terrorism and crime as a whole must address the threat posed through technology. “Cybersecurity is something you can’t ignore. This is the thing that could take us down, quite frankly, in a number of ways.

“If I wanted to rob a bank and I go storming in the front door with a rifle and I tell everyone to lie down, everyone knows the bank was robbed. Someone used force, the money disappears. Someone who uses cyber doesn’t have to be exposed, doesn’t have to be in this nation, doesn’t have to use force and can take millions on any given day.

“Compare this to a nation-state who would want to do us in,” continued Callahan. “If I wanted to do something horrible to this nation, if you took down through cyber means our power, our water, our banks, our lights, our GPS systems, just go through a list of things. You wouldn’t need very big guns to come in and take over after this.”

Callahan also pointed out that cybercrime and cyberterrorism can be committed from safe havens far away from the United States, well insulated against being caught.

“It made sense to me with the things I was seeing that we needed to address this national problem at a couple of levels, including better trained cyber professionals.” Callahan says this must include a dedicated effort to interest young people in cybersecurity careers at the elementary and secondary school level. “If we can show them a career path and show them they can contribute, they will. These kids are so technically astute.

“This is not rocket science. We all like to feel we are wanted, kids especially. If we catch them early enough, they will not let us down,” she said.

Callahan is also eager to engage military veterans. USD is well positioned for this role due to San Diego’s large population of active duty military and veterans. “Most of the people I have the privilege to meet in the military, they are committed, they have contributed in a big way, and they don’t want to stop contributing. They can still contribute. This is an area where that can happen. It is critical.

“We just really need to leave no stones unturned to get a cyber force in this country with good old American ingenuity, stick-to-it-tiveness, we can do this,” said Callahan.

She says she feels “blessed” being given the opportunity to work in a community with so many interested audiences and to work with a city and leadership concerned about the nation’s future. “I am so proud everyone feels our nation is worth contributing to. Our country pulls together when we need to.”

Callahan says we can also do our part as individuals by practicing good “cyber hygiene” and to avoid inviting attacks by providing low hanging fruit for cyber criminals. “Change your passwords often. Don’t hide them under the keyboard. You order something online. Think to yourself, what does the person on the other end of the line really need to know to finish this transaction? Never ever, ever give them all your personal information. There is no reason they need those things to make a transaction. If you have to lie, do it. Know who you are opening emails from. You have to be careful.”

For more information and registration go to

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is president/owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +

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