Guest Opinions

Cybersecurity education a win-win for Idaho

Threats to the virtual world can be threats to the physical world — especially in the energy sector. In recent years, Internet-based attacks have hit electric grids, dams, oil producers and nuclear facilities.

One of the earliest warnings that such attacks were possible happened here in Idaho in 2007, when Idaho National Lab researchers launched a virtual attack against a diesel generator and caused it to physically destroy itself.

These systems involve equipment, resources and human lives. The risks are high, and the threat is real.

The key to securing the cyberphysical world is an educated workforce, ready to respond to threats and secure our infrastructure. But a study published in April noted that none of the top 10 U.S. university computer science programs requires students to take a cybersecurity class, and three offer no cybersecurity courses.

Idaho is different.

Our universities offer programs focused on cybersecurity. The University of Idaho, for example, offers 10 regular courses in cybersecurity and hosts “special topics” courses on advanced concepts.

UI’s Center for Secure and Dependable Systems opened in 1999, bringing together faculty from computer science and other disciplines to teach and study cybersecurity issues. UI and Idaho State University were two of the first seven institutions named among the NSA’s Centers of Academic Excellence and have maintained that accreditation for two decades.

Since 2001, UI and ISU have hosted federal programs for training cyberdefenders called the CyberCorps, playing a vital role in our nation’s security. On April 18-20, UI hosted the Cybersecurity Symposium in Coeur d’Alene, an internationally recognized conference.

The need for a skilled workforce exceeds our current capacity — and so we continue to grow and expand.

I work for UI’s Idaho Falls campus, based at the Center for Advanced Energy Studies. CAES is a collaboration sponsored by the INL, UI, ISU, Boise State University and the University of Wyoming. In partnership with INL, we are establishing advanced capabilities for cybersecurity education and research focused on energy systems and critical infrastructure protection.

We are building a state-of-the-art classroom and will have one of the few laboratories for college students to see, disassemble, hack and secure real cyberphysical systems. We’re also excited to partner with BSU’s new cybersecurity lab.

Other states have or are building these capacities, but Idaho is stepping to the top with the extent of our partnership efforts among our universities, colleges and the INL. We must continue and invest in these vital collaborations, leading to increased funding, research opportunities and talent attraction to address this complex problem.

Idaho is a great place to live and a great place to be on the front lines of national cybersecurity efforts.

Michael Haney is an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Idaho. His areas of study include computer and network security and critical infrastructure protections. Prior to entering academia, he had 15 years of industry experience designing, implementing and managing information assurance programs for clients across business and industry.