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News stories on cybersecurity can be found nearly every day, but many of the reports are seldom positive as news outlets report on government agencies, businesses and higher education being attacked or compromised or forced to pay ransom.

Those attacks highlight what Tony Coulson, executive director of the Cybersecurity Center at Cal State San Bernardino, and other leading cybersecurity experts and academics have been saying for years – massive shortages in the cyber workforce are creating huge gaps that leave computer systems vulnerable and susceptible to attacks in almost every part of society.

Coulson, in testifying before a congressional subcommittee in July, said the nation is in a crisis situation of needing 500,000 people to fill jobs in the cyber workforce. “Let that number sink in,” Coulson told the lawmakers. “That’s an absurd number. If this was doctors and nurses, there would be a national outcry.”

According to the recent study “The Life and Times of Cybersecurity Professionals 2021,” 95% of the respondents to the study stated that the cybersecurity skills shortage and its associated impacts have not improved over the past few years, and about 44% say it has only gotten worse. The study, by the Information Systems Security Association and industry analyst firm Enterprise Strategy Group regarding cybersecurity skills shortage, surveyed 489 cybersecurity professionals.

But the CSUSB Cybersecurity Center, which Coulson serves as executive director, has been dedicated to changing that by bringing more awareness to the problem through its work with federal agencies, other colleges and universities and businesses to create state-of-the-art programs and partnerships for cybersecurity education, training, internships, jobs and most recently apprenticeships.

“Workforce is a key issue for cybersecurity. The Inland Empire is the best region in the state for this talent with an amazing combination of community colleges, high schools and universities producing world-class cybersecurity talent. Combined with our nationally recognized academic programs, scholarships and innovation, cybersecurity is poised to become a major job center in the Inland region.”

As an example, the National Security Agency (NSA) recently awarded the CSUSB Cybersecurity Center a $3 million grant for its proposal to help create cyber jobs in the Inland Empire by attracting employers to the region, matching them with a local diverse workforce and creating cybersecurity educational apprenticeships with major employers such as ESRI and management consultants Robert Half.

The grant, which would build up cyber talent in the state, is in partnership with the Riverside Community College District’s LAUNCH Apprenticeship Network, San Bernardino County Schools, and former San Bernardino City Unified School District Superintendent Dale Marsden’s company, Tomorrow’s Talent.

The NSA apprenticeship grant is part of the center’s ongoing work to enhance cyber studies and programs, where students can compete for scholarships, attend national conferences and do research on issues involving cybersecurity, Coulson said.

Last year, the NSA awarded a $10.5 million grant to the CSUSB center and named it a Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (CAE-C) Community National Center and directed the university to be a leader of the agency’s core workforce development initiative, the Centers of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cybersecurity Community. In its designation as a national center, the CSUSB center has worked to establish and manage three CAE-C Communities of Practice, coordinate cutting-edge research, establish and support five regional hubs around the country, and support cybersecurity education nationally.

Over a 10-year period, from 2010-2020, the center has received more than $32 million in grants from federal agencies and programs that include the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE).

The center was recently re-designated as a Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in Cyber Defense through 2028. Coulson said the NSA designation is similar to an accreditation and recognizes the quality of the academic program and institutional support of cybersecurity and the quality of faculty in the university’s Information and Decision Sciences department in the Jack H. Brown College of Business and Public Administration, where the center is housed.

Earlier this summer, the center received a $3.8 million NSF grant to continue its CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service Program, which will provide jobs and full-ride scholarships to more than 40 CSUSB students. Coulson said over 105 CSUSB students have participated in the program, which can lead to cybersecurity positions in the executive branch of the federal government.

“Our program has been recognized for its emphasis on diversity and the quality of the students developed in an intensive program,” Coulson said.

Other accomplishments include:

  • With the recent White House announcement of the creation of a cybersecurity task force, CSUSB was named as a part of the program through an NSF grant led by Whatcom Community College, creating the National Cybersecurity Education and Training Center (NCyTE). The NCyTE center provides training and education for faculty, community colleges, universities and veterans at all levels of higher education. CSUSB will receive more than $1.2 million, leveraging the world class NICE Challenge Project housed at CSUSB.
  • The center is a co-recipient for the new Information Security Research Education grant led by Northeastern University. The program expands CSUSB’s leadership in research and provides a pathway for students to engage in applied cybersecurity research projects with technical directors with the government and national labs. Coulson said the two-year funding will be for $200,000. The center has existing funding from another grant of about $600,000, which has helped it provide cutting-edge research and internships for 20 students, said Coulson.
  • The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) awarded $1 million to the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Challenge Project in its program to develop and deliver cutting-edge cyber workforce-focused challenges to universities and colleges around the nation to grow and enhance the cyber workforce of tomorrow.
  • A CSUSB cybersecurity student was recently chosen as a Department of Defense Cybersecurity Scholarship student, which Coulson compared to a National Football League draft where only the best in the nation are chosen. The student, whose name was not released, will receive a full ride scholarship as well as a job in the Department of Defense.
  • As part of its community outreach efforts, the center in partnership with the Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio, has over the years held GenCyber summer camps, where middle school and high school girls from Girl Scout troops in San Bernardino and Riverside counties learn about cybersecurity. The camp is designed to increase interest in cybersecurity through engaging and dynamic instruction, role-playing, visual aids, hands-on activities and discussion groups.

Coulson said the support the CSUSB center receives from federal agencies, higher education and K-12, business and industry have helped advance cyber education and the development of innovative programs, which continue to attract and increase the number of students in cybersecurity, but there is still much to do.

“This problem is not going to go away overnight, but we are doing our part,” he said. “The strong partnerships from our legislators, government, academia and industry, combined with the incredible success of the students is what makes me feel so optimistic about solving the cybersecurity workforce crisis.”