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Google is providing $20 million to university-based cybersecurity clinics—empowering students to gain hands-on experience within their own communities Google is providing $20 million to university-based cybersecurity clinics—empowering students to gain hands-on experience within their own communities | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware


BY Preston ForeOctober 25, 2023, 3:43 PM

Learning about cybersecurity is not just for those cut out for tech and IT. Cybersecurity is relevant in a large part of the increasingly digital world.

Many organizations— from hospitals and schools to governments and nonprofits—have found this out the hard way whenever they become the latest victim of a ransomware or other cyber-related attack. By 2025, cybercrimes are predicted to cost the world $10.5 trillion annually, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.

Through hands-on and community-based learning, cybersecurity clinics at universities across the country are hoping to change the landscape for the better.

“Cybersecurity is fundamental to pretty much every organization in the country that is online, in any form,” says Sarah Powazek, program director of public interest cybersecurity at the UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity. 

The university is among a group of about a dozen schools that operate cybersecurity clinics. Similar to law or medical schools that provide pro-bono services, the clinics provide services to local organizations that may be struggling with high volume cyber threats and do not have the proper resources or training.

Students at schools like the University of Alabama, MIT, and Indiana University work with the community groups by conducting cyber maturity assessments as well as providing recommendations of how organizations can better implement cybersecurity practices.

The clinics are part of the international network, the Consortium of Cybersecurity Clinics, which Powazek helps lead.

The group notably recently caught the eye of Google’s charitable arm. This past summer, Google’s CEO, Sundar Pichai, announced the company would donate $20 million to the consortium. Half of the commitment was recently provided to 10 of the existing clinics in the form of $500,000 grants.

“What excites us about the cyber clinic model is that it’s really a win-win,” Maab Ibrahim, the cybersecurity lead at Google.org, says. “We’re collaborating with the consortium to give students hands-on experience and build a more diverse cybersecurity pipeline, and also helping community organizations defend themselves against cyber attacks.”

Students will also be provided mentor support from Google employees, in kind donations like tightened security keys, and scholarships to the company’s newly launched cybersecurity certificate.

The other $10 million will be used to support the opening of new clinics at underserved communities like Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), as well as community colleges, Ibrahim says.

“The more folks we have with the cybersecurity knowledge and expertise needed to teach that sort of course involved in the clinics is going to improve, like both the experience of the students and the number of students and clients that each of them are able to serve,” Powazek adds.

Hands-on skill development

More than 700 students have received training with the clinics so far, according to Powazek—and individuals are not just from tech backgrounds. Students from business, marketing, urban planning, and political science have been eager to get involved.

“I think one of the best things about clinics is that they attract students from all different fields,” Powazek tells Fortune. “And the reason is because cybersecurity helps folks accomplish their mission. It’s not just for people who are computer science majors who are interested in technology. It’s about people who want to help protect their communities and help organizations deliver the services that make where they live a better place.”

One example of the clinics at work is in upstate New York, where students at the Rochester Institute of Technology helped a local school district. Local leaders found that the clinic’s student-faculty team outperformed local penetration testing services they had previously used.

This model of community learning and assistance can go a long way in creating a local hub of cybersecurity expertise and preventing brain drain, Powazek says.

“You’re training students, where they live and work, where they study, and they’re helping organizations that live there and serve those areas. It’s sort of implying that students don’t have to move across the country to a major metropolitan area to study cybersecurity,” she adds.

Overall, Ibrahim notes that Google is proud to not only support students but to also support local communities in staying ahead of new and evolving cyber threats.

“We believe that the cyber clinics model is innovative and scalable. And we’re excited to support the consortium and provide free services to community organizations that provide critical services all across the country,” Ibrahim says.

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