Cybersecurity center opens doors

The Florida Center for Cybersecurity at USF is housed on the seventh floor of the ISA building. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ ADAM MATHIEU

Senior Deputy Majority Whip Dennis Ross brought USF and its cybersecurity program to the U.S. House of Representative’s attention in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday.

“Cybersecurity reaches every facet of modern life, from national security to personal communication, from data storage to banking security, from health care privacy to transportation safety,” he said on the House floor. “With the opening of the Florida Center for Cybersecurity on the campus of the University of South Florida in Tampa this Friday, our state marshals the strength of all of Florida’s public universities to respond to our nation’s cyber workforce needs.”

At the ribbon cutting Friday morning at USF, the Tampa community and university staff and faculty gathered for the unveiling of the new Florida Center for Cybersecurity, housed on the seventh floor of the Interdisciplinary Sciences building. 

The Center, also called FC2, is part of a statewide initiative that aims to increase “education, research and outreach” in the realm of cybersecurity, working with all the institutions in the State University System.

USF President Judy Genshaft said the university’s location in Tampa and quick start on cybersecurity led to USF’s selection as the base for FC2’s operations. 

“We were the first to recognize the need from a statewide perspective, and how everybody can do their research in an independent way but it doesn’t contribute as it would if we had a statewide center,” Genshaft said. “It’s been very, very clear from all of our workforce needs that people in cyber are usually requested, and the fact that we have CENTCOM, SOCOM and MacDill right here makes it even more special for the whole state of Florida to work together. 

“We’ve just brought it together and the idea of us working together as a state is something that USF was able to communicate to the Legislature and to the governor, so we were very pleased to receive funding last year,” she said. 

The Center’s unveiling was marked by a ribbon-cutting ceremony, which also included speakers such as U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and Cisco Security content strategy manager and USF graduate student Jim Risler. Speeches focused on current events as well as the importance of increasing the number of students learning skills to combat cyber threats in the future.

In his speech, Risler said the main problem of cybersecurity is a lack of manpower, rather than a lack of adequate security technology. He referenced recent attacks on Home Depot and Target and said his experience with the cybersecurity degree program at USF has helped his career. 

“Today, the cybersecurity problem we’re facing is not technology … ,” he said. “The professors here at the University of South Florida who teach cybersecurity courses truly understand the interdisciplinary approach of combining technology with behavioral sciences. You don’t find that in other programs.”

Risler’s comment is underscored by a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that claims a 37 percent growth rate for jobs in information security analysis through 2022, which is much higher than the average 14.3 percent growth rate across all jobs.

The university will also use FC2 as a way to bolster its online cybersecurity master’s degree and certificate programs. The master’s degree is wholly online and offers financial aid such as military tuition assistance and state tuition waivers. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency also recognize the program for excellence.

After the speeches, members from USF’s Whitehatters computer security club demonstrated a hacking device commonly referred to as a “pineapple.” The pineapple allows hackers to steal information shared over public Wi-Fi, such as at businesses like Starbucks and Panera Bread. 

The event also provided a guided tour of the facility, which features live maps of possible cybersecurity threats as registered by cybersecurity corporations FireEye and Norse in addition to a secure server room and office space for computer training. The facility is typically not open to the public and does not allow cameras. The tour was performed specifically for the opening. 

USF student body president Jean Cocco said the opening of the Center has been a long but positive process, involving lobbying the state government in Tallahassee for funding. Last year, the state appropriated $5 million to launch the center. More recently, President Barack Obama proposed $14 billion in cybersecurity efforts nationwide for his 2015-2016 budget proposal.