LSU added another gadget to its cybersecurity tool belt Thursday with the opening of a new center dedicated to protecting higher education statewide and providing a pathway to careers in cybersecurity for LSU students.
LSU chief information officer Craig Woolley said the security operations center, or SOC, was born out of a desire to “raise up the cybersecurity posture” at the university.
The announcement comes as universities across Louisiana and the rest of the country have faced numerous cyberattacks over the past few years. The effects of those attacks have ranged from temporary disruptions to one that crippled Southeastern Louisiana University’s internet and computer infrastructure for weeks.
State officials have warned — particularly after a major hack that exposed the personal information of millions of people with Louisiana drivers’ licenses — that cyberattacks are becoming more frequent and more sophisticated, but it is hard to find workers with the skills to defend against them.
“A primary cybersecurity challenge our nation confronts today is the shortage of a skilled workforce,” said LSU President William F. Tate at an event unveiling the new center Thursday. “We require more well-trained cyber warriors. Through the SOC, we are enhancing the development of cyber talent while fulfilling our flagship mission to protect and serve our state.”
But the center’s goal isn’t just to protect campuses.
“The Security Operations Center has two main goals, one is to keep the higher ed institutions in the state of Louisiana safe,” Woolley said. “That’s our partnership with TekStream that will allow us to be proactive in fighting cybersecurity threats to keep us safe. The second goal is to give our students some valuable training and real-world experience.”
TekStream, an Atlanta-based technology services firm, helped LSU build the security center by providing management and incident response, while data and security technology company Splunk supplied analytic and monitoring technology.
Rob Jansen, TekStream CEO, acknowledged that finding and hiring good cybersecurity talent can be a struggle. So when LSU approached Jansen and TekStream to cooperate on the SOC, he and his team saw the “amazing upsides” of the partnership.
“Our model was always to provide SOC services by implementing Splunk technology, but we jumped at the opportunity to do something different with LSU,” Jansen said. “We essentially agreed to work our way out of business by helping to train students to do more and more advanced work.”
According to LSU, 94 students in the past three weeks have applied to receive training as professional cyber analysts to operate the center. Students working at the SOC will be responsible for monitoring and analyzing the university’s network traffic as well as identifying and escalating potential threats.
Tate said the SOC is a product of “resolute” commitment to becoming the foremost cybersecurity program in the nation. Tate has made cybersecurity a key piece of his “Scholarship First” agenda.
To spread out their cybersecurity efforts beyond LSU, the SOC will be the first touchpoint in a growing cybersecurity platform powered by the Louisiana Optical Network Infrastructure, or LONI. Operating as the state’s research and development network, LONI connects Louisiana universities with community and technical colleges statewide.
After announcing a $7.5 million investment from the state Legislature earlier this week, LSU plans to expand the LSU-LONI-SOC model to more than 30 colleges and universities in the state at no additional cost to each institution.
“LSU is harnessing the collective power of our immensely talented students in order to protect citizens from cyber threats while also growing our workforce,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at Thursday’s event. “Louisiana’s record low unemployment is proof that innovation leads to job creation, and the LSU SOC is exactly the type of forward-thinking project that will keep this momentum going.”
From workforce development to improved cybersecurity at LSU and other higher education institutions, the SOC aims to establish itself as a major figure in the overall cyber health of Louisiana.
“The SOC model means every public institution is positioned to acquire and build the additional cybersecurity defense to meet its unique campus needs,” Commissioner of Higher Education Kim Hunter Reed said. “We are grateful for the state, corporate and institutional support that has resulted in this integrated and innovative approach to data protection and student engagement in Louisiana.”