Cybersecurity center comes to USF


The field of cybersecurity is one that’s constantly changing, Sri Sridharan, managing director for USF’s newly developing USF Cyber Security Initiative, said.


“You can protect yourself against something that happened yesterday, but cyber security is a dynamic field,” he said. “They come up with something new everyday — new ways of attacking the system that’s different from two years ago, or two months ago, or two weeks ago. We need to be on our toes.”


When the Florida Legislature convened last spring, in its annual budget allocations it included a proviso calling for the creation of a Florida Center for Cybersecurity, “principally located at, and under the leadership of, .”


The Board of Governors has been asked to provide the Legislature with a plan for the center by Dec. 1, but the Center has already started the groundwork at USF.


Tuesday, the USF Cyber Security Initiative hosted local CEOs, CIOs and Chief Security Officers at the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation. A few weeks ago, Sridharan said he met with National Security Agency officials.


His vision for the Center, he said, is to create a comprehensive center on campus that can provide training, research and resources for external companies in the private sector, Department of Defense and more.


“People are hacking into database systems,” Sridharan said. “They’re hacking into the Department of Defense. They’re hacking into the Department of Energy. They’re hacking into databases to steal customers’ names. They’re installing malware. Cybersecurity protects against that.”


Cybersecurity is a vast topic, he said, but as big data and data mining becomes more prevalent, and the amount of information readily available grows, the need for cybersecurity will grow.


“What we’re trying to do here goes beyond just technology,” he said. “There’s policy, there’s law, there’s compliance, there’s criminology, there’s psychology. It’s truly interdisciplinary.”


Currently, USF plans to offer a master’s degree in Cyber Security at a market rate of $900 per credit hour, compared to the regular in-state graduate course rate of $431.43 per credit hour. Eventually, Sridharan said he hopes the Center will offer bachelor’s degrees and will build secure environments on campus to work on classified projects. The facilities would require government security clearance, something he said hardly anyone has on campus currently, but he is working toward changing.


Sridharan said there is great demand for professionals in the field. He estimates about 30,000 available positions that pay $100,000 salaries on average, but only about 2,000 qualified individuals.


He said he thinks housing the Center at USF will allow USF to train students to enter those fields while attracting large companies to the Tampa area and keeping many of the companies that deal with big data in the area. The proximity to MacDill Air Force Base and U.S. Central Command, he said ,is beneficial to veterans who come with intelligence backgrounds.


Cybersecurity, he said, is a hot topic and will continue to gain attention.


“Let’s say a couple years from now, someone from Cheyenne, Wyoming has a question about cybersecurity, the answer should be ‘Hey, talk to those guys at USF. They’ll either know the answer or give you the guidance to get the answer,’ ” Sridharan said.