Baylor, MCC open Waco cybersecurity lab amid national need | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

Baylor University, in partnership with McLennan Community College, introduced a $3.5 million state-of-the-art cybersecurity research center Thursday aimed at filling a national security void.

Named the Central Texas Cyber Range, the 3,000-square-foot center in the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative is designed to meet current and future cybersecurity needs and address a nationwide lack of cybersecurity experts. Just over half the space is dedicated to a network security laboratory, which Baylor officials said has many uses including hosting cybersecurity competitions, summer camps and advanced research unable to be completed elsewhere.

$2.5 million of the funding for the lab was provided through two U.S. Department of Education grants championed by Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Waco, who said he wanted to help grow the number of people involved in cybersecurity. He compared cybersecurity experts to nuclear physicists of the early 20th century, and said they will help lead the world forward in new developments.

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“The country has a huge need not just for cybersecurity, but actually the intelligence that comes behind understanding what holds our intellectual property, what holds our state secrets, what holds our companies’ information, data, background, IPs, money and all these things,” Sessions said. “There are not enough people available in the industry who have a higher level education and content on this. And so that’s what we’re trying to grow.”

Baylor Provost Nancy Brickhouse said the center will address critical shortcomings in the cybersecurity industry and promote the overall importance of cybersecurity. According to a Baylor press release, the U.S. has an estimated 700,000 open cybersecurity jobs, with 82,000 in Texas.

Cybersecurity professionals can make $100k+ a year without a college degree: The United States has approximately 700,000 cybersecurity job openings. Congress hopes to entice more people to enter the field.

“Texas and the nation have a critical shortfall of cybersecurity talent,” Brickhouse said. “The lack of work-ready talent in cybersecurity represents a serious threat to our national security and our economic well-being. The Central Texas Cyber Range will be a nationally recognized cyber resilience and security innovation hub, specializing in applied research and education and training.”

MCC President Johnette McKown said the partnership between MCC and Baylor will allow for students to get on a pathway from MCC to Baylor.

“Our faculty and students are excited about the partnership with Baylor University as we work together to nurture future leaders in Central Texas who will make a difference in combatting cybersecurity threats and in developing new research and techniques to respond to these threats,” McKown said in the press release. “Part of the benefit is developing a seamless transfer for our graduates to Baylor which enriches their lives and also our community.”

According to the press release, both Baylor and MCC are each designated by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense.

Baylor President Linda Livingstone said Baylor’s investment in cybersecurity is part of the university’s strategic plan. She said the center will help improve curriculum in cybersecurity for future needs.

“Baylor, for the last five years, we’ve invested in five signature academic initiatives in our strategic plan Illuminate,” Livingstone said. “One of those five initiatives is data sciences, and we believe that investing in data sciences is critically important because it is rapidly advancing interdisciplinary field whose applications are very broad and extremely diverse across all types of fields and industries. And data science and its applications are pivotal, introducing patterns to help us predict and prepare for future cyber attacks.”

In addition to fostering research, the center’s versatile network security laboratory has a variety of uses, including creating unique hacking scenarios to train students, the ability to complete penetration testing to test the efficacy of computer security systems, and host cybersecurity competitions and other events. The press release says in July, the center hosted a high school summer camp, with 70% of the participants coming from underrepresented population groups.

The center’s lab has a private cloud server, which allows researchers to create specific hacking scenarios to train students in their response, said Jeff Donahoo, a Baylor professor of computer science and director of research and development at the new cybersecurity center.

“Labs like this are absolutely critical, because until you can actually experience what it’s going to be like to be a cybersecurity practitioner, you have no idea if you have the skills and the capabilities to succeed,” Donahoo said. “So labs like this are super important to immerse the students in learning those skills and capabilities just like they’re going to do in the real world defending our economy and our national security.”

Donahoo said fostering research in cybersecurity is crucial to defend digital services and the internet, which he said have become extremely important in modern society.

“Digital services and the internet are the things that we absolutely are dependent on,” Donahoo said. “If we don’t defend them, we will not have them, and right now, we’re in a very vulnerable state because we don’t have the workforce professionals to effectively defend. So the Central Texas Cyber Range is really about building that effective workforce and exploring the research techniques so that they have the tools they need to protect us.”


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National Cyber Security