The market awaiting these graduates is substantial. Some level of cyber education applies to any occupation involving a computer or networked equipment. An estimated 1,500 cybersecurity positions go unfilled in Idaho annually, and 314,000 are unfilled in the U.S. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of those jobs will grow 31% through the end of the decade. Worldwide, the number of unfilled jobs in cybersecurity number in the millions. Boise State Electrical and Computer Engineering Prof. Sin Ming Loo, who helped design the university’s engineering cyber-physical curricula and CORe, said even those numbers may downplay the real value of training in that area.
“The Department of Labor shows that there’s a huge demand for a cyber-literate workforce, but that’s not what I want to talk about,” he said. “What I want to talk about is that any company these days is in some way a tech company. If you don’t have some knowledge level within your rank and file employees to address cyber issues, you are potentially putting your data and your customers’ data at risk.”
Loo is a professor at Boise State with a joint appointment at the Idaho National Laboratory, which has partnered with the university to build statewide cyber-educational programs and infrastructure. That has included on-site and remote learning facilities, direct input into Boise State’s programs and curricula, a $25,000 economic development grant to the Institute for Pervasive Cybersecurity, internships and more.
INL combines two of the major themes of cybersecurity in Idaho: On the one hand, it’s a high-tech research facility for the U.S. Department of Energy. On the other, it’s located in the heart of rural Idaho, where many critical cybersecurity needs go unmet. It has established the Cybercore Integration Center, which partners with public agencies, industry and educational institutions like Boise State to bring experts together, assess infrastructure, detect threats and solve complex cybersecurity problems. One of the biggest challenges in these efforts has been building that security as computer technologies are layered on top of older machines, from tractors to turbines.
“As soon as you take those things that existed in the physical world and you make them available digitally, you’ve really changed things in ways you couldn’t quite understand or appreciate,” said Cybercore Program Manager Eleanor Taylor. “Right now you’re looking at equipment that was designed 30 years ago, before the internet, or an internet of things existed, and that makes us vulnerable.”
Ramping up remote work and remote learning options, however, will help solve those problems. Workers in the cybersecurity jobs of the future will be able to receive their training and education through Boise State’s online programs; and after completing their degrees or certifications, punch the proverbial clock in a town far from where they live. And Boise State’s multidisciplinary approach builds skill sets to match the demands of those jobs.
“You need to be a self-learner, excited to learn a new technology and tool set. That curiosity: How do things work and how do they break?” said Chief Technical Officer for the National & Homeland Security Directorate at Idaho National Laboratory Wayne Austad. “We find on our high-impact teams that they all think about how things work and how things break differently. In some cases, we’ll be evolving from multidisciplinary teams to interdisciplinary professions.”
The problems of cybersecurity are as varied as the industries affected by it, but broadly, those problems come in one of two flavors: operational, which concerns mechanical or infrastructural things; and information, which relates to data and privacy. As people, the government and the private sector increasingly recognize where they fit into the continuum of the cybersecurity threat, they’ve tailored their responses.