With the skills gap still impacting cybersecurity, universities look for new ways to prepare their students to succeed in the field. Because many cybersecurity skills are best learned with hands-on projects, students need computer labs designed for innovation in this area.

University Center Supports U.S. Defense

As part of this national effort, Texas A&M University-Central Texas received a $4.2 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Air Force. The government selected the university because of its location near Fort Hood. This is home to the Fort Hood Cyber Security Training Center, which trains Department of Defense personnel worldwide.

The four-year university located in Killeen, Texas, also recently opened a new Center for Cybersecurity Innovation. The vision of the center is three-fold: research, teaching and outreach. The school built the 1,873 square feet center by renovating two separate classrooms. The center features dozens of computers and offers the space needed to hold cybersecurity contests. In addition, it includes new furnishings and the latest in audio-video equipment and new laptops.

Teaching Cyberattacks in Real Time

One of the challenges with teaching cybersecurity is that many lessons cannot be taught in typical computer labs or classrooms, said Emmet Gray, adjunct professor of cybersecurity at the university. In his class on malware analysis, he puts an actual virus on students’ computers. The project involves analyzing it and then creating a plan for organizations to defend against the specific virus. However, performing this project without advanced security and gapping can risk the school’s systems and infrastructure.

Damiano Torre, an associate research scientist in the Computer Information Systems Department, shared current research at the center with the Herald. He says that researchers are working on new techniques called deep learning enforcement that can help spot cyberattacks before they happen. Torre also explained new privacy preservation techniques that prevent data from leaking when traveling from point to point.

Many Paths to Close the Skills Gap

As part of the center’s mission for outreach, the staff plans to offer free camps to high school students. An EdWeek Research Center report found that less than half (45%) of teachers reported that their students were learning about cybersecurity. By providing openings to teens, schools such as A&M-Central Texas can help foster interest. Both college degrees and digital badges or certifications can make a difference. This way, the industry can begin to increase the number of qualified applicants.

By providing more education and exposure, universities, government agencies and private businesses can work together to reduce the cybersecurity skills gap.

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