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Homegrown cybersecurity workforce

In today’s digital age, the need for cybersecurity has become more critical than ever. With the increasing frequency and sophistication of cyberattacks, organizations are constantly seeking skilled professionals to safeguard their digital assets. However, the traditional pathways to acquiring cybersecurity expertise often limit the diversity and inclusivity of the workforce. In response to this challenge, Boise State University has launched the cyber operations and resilience program, which aims to cultivate a resilient workforce through collaboration, innovation and community-driven solutions.

Located in the heart of Idaho’s capital city, Boise, the cyber operations and resilience program stands as a testament to the power of partnerships between academia, industry and the community. The program recognizes that cybersecurity is not just a technical domain but a multifaceted realm where diverse skill sets converge. As such, the cyber operations and resilience program welcomes individuals from all backgrounds, including seasoned professionals and students, to create a vibrant learning environment.

Dedicated Faculty and Staff

At the forefront of the cyber operations and resilience program’s initiatives is a team of dedicated faculty and industry experts who understand the potential within Idaho’s communities. They envision a future where cybersecurity is not an exclusive domain but a shared responsibility accessible to individuals from various backgrounds. To achieve this vision, the program has formed partnerships with local organizations and businesses, including the Idaho Office of Emergency Management (IOEM). These collaborations create a seamless bridge between academia and the real-world challenges faced by organizations in safeguarding their digital infrastructure.

IOEM held its annual cybersecurity summit on various topics such as emergency preparedness, disaster recovery, mitigation activities, cyber preparedness, defensive strategies and many more topics. The Annual Preparedness and Cybersecurity Conference (APCC) is a comprehensive learning and networking event designed for a diverse audience of government officials and cybersecurity professionals. The APCC kicked off with days one through three dedicated to enriching county/tribal emergency managers and commissioners/council members. Cybersecurity professionals then join on days two and three to provide insight on the importance of cultivating a cyber workforce to mitigate cyber risks in both the private and governmental business arena, creating a robust conference experience for all.

Among the panel that presented was Sin Ming Loo, the program creator and director of the cyber operations and resilience program. Loo’s unwavering dedication and visionary leadership have propelled the cyber operations and resilience program to become a national model for cybersecurity education. The program’s remarkable success is a testament to Loo’s commitment to preparing the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. Under his guidance, the cyber operations and resilience program has not only built a skilled workforce but also fostered a community of passionate individuals united in their mission to safeguard digital infrastructure and promote a safer cyberspace for all.

Loo’s story is one of innovation, collaboration and a profound desire to make a positive impact. His vision for the cyber operations and resilience program extends beyond an academic program but rather a movement that empowers individuals from all backgrounds, including those with no technical skills who can contribute to the collective defense of cyberspace. As Idaho and the nation face ever-evolving cyber threats, Loo’s leadership and the enduring legacy of the cyber operations and resilience program will undoubtedly play a pivotal role in shaping a more secure and resilient digital future.

The task of building a resilient workforce capable of defending various digital infrastructures is both urgent and challenging. Recognizing this, the IOEM has included Loo and four successful students from the cyber operations and resilience program, poised to tackle this issue head-on. Moderated by the esteemed Loo, who is also a professor of electrical and computer engineering, this panel will bring together professionals who have successfully transitioned into cybersecurity roles, offering valuable insights and practical strategies for building a strong and adaptable workforce.

Cyber Operations and Resilience for Student Success

Angie Alcoser recently graduated from the cyber operations and resilience program and has an impressive twenty-three-year tenure at Tetra Tech as a system administrator. Alcoser made the strategic switch to the cybersecurity field after the company she worked for was hit with ransomware in January 2020. The ransomware affected about three hundred servers and this event sparked Alcoser’s curiosity into the cyber field. She pondered, “What is ransomware and how could businesses protect themselves from such a detrimental attack?” Although the ransom was not paid, the company rebuilt over three hundred servers and restored them from backup. Alcoser took it upon herself to improve both her knowledge and skills in the cyber field by enrolling in the cyber operations and resilience program. Due to her switch to cybersecurity, she was promoted to the position of network cyber engineer from her previous role of system administrator. Alcoser offers a valuable perspective on transitioning into cybersecurity roles within established organizations.

Elizabeth Khan has always had an entrepreneurial spirit which is further exemplified by her pivot into cybersecurity after graduating from Boise State’s Master of Science in Cyber Operations and Resilience program. Prior to her transition, Khan’s professional experience spanned Hollywood talent consulting to providing international research for various organizations. Her current role at St. Luke’s Health System has allowed her to put to use what she learned in some of the courses offered throughout the program. Such a career change showcases the diverse career paths available in the field, such as cybersecurity awareness training, compliance and risk or vulnerability testing for local businesses. Kahn’s story is a testament that it is possible for someone with no background in cybersecurity to become proficient in the field.

Kris Pruett is a mother of two beautiful children and has a background in customer service. Her father was a network engineer and, as a child, bought her first computer at the age of five years old. Computers and Boise State were always part of Pruett’s life, and things came full circle when she decided to enroll in the cyber operations and resilience program online as the first cohort in fall 2021. Completing her bachelor’s degree online while living in a rural area and leveraging her skills to secure a position at HP are powerful testaments to the accessibility and impact of cybersecurity education. She stated the courses she took in the cyber operations and resilience program has helped her in performing her duties at her current job with excellence. Pruett’s story is one of determination and resourcefulness.

Robert Wiley was always intertwined with the digital world and technology. Wiley has extensive experience in the Air Force and gained valuable skills such as military inspections. Wiley stated, “I was a security manager, IT help-desk, set up some servers and re-imaged tons of endpoints. I have experience with Incident Response from playing wargames (not in cyber) that easily became a transferable skill.” These various skills were later applied to his current position at Procellis, assisting HBCUs in vulnerability assessments. Wiley’s transition from Air Force fleet management to GRC cybersecurity with Procellis Technology, facilitated by Boise State’s graduate cyber operations and resilience program, highlights the program’s effectiveness in training individuals for in-demand roles.

This diverse panel promises a rich tapestry of perspectives. From navigating technical transitions to utilizing critical thinking skills in real-world scenarios, these students have shared valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities of building a cybersecurity workforce. Organizations can build their cyber workforce from the inside as well when one of their employees decides to pivot to the cyber field, as was shown in Alcoser’s case. These organizations have also hired students, as was shown with the four students mentioned in this section, through the cyber operations and resilience program. They recognized the valuable knowledge and technical skills imparted to these students from our program, as evident by some companies directly requesting cyber operations and resilience program students.

Cyber Operations and Resilience for Idaho

The impact of the cyber operations and resilience program extends beyond the classroom. Graduates of the program have transitioned into fulfilling roles within various organizations, including our local hospitals, private companies and government agencies. They now stand as guardians of Idaho’s digital infrastructure, equipped with the skills and knowledge to effectively detect, mitigate and respond to cyber threats.

The IOEM Cybersecurity Summit aims to be more than just a forum for sharing information. It seeks to be a catalyst for change, a platform where ideas are exchanged, partnerships forged and concrete action plans are formulated. By bringing together diverse stakeholders, from seasoned professionals to aspiring students, the summit aspires to ignite a statewide movement towards building a robust and resilient cyber defense, safeguarding Idaho’s digital future in the process.

The summit serves as a beacon of hope and a clear call to action. Attending this event is an opportunity for anyone concerned about cybersecurity in Idaho to contribute to a collective effort, learn from experts and become part of the solution. It’s a chance to write a new chapter in Idaho’s cyber story, one where talent, resilience and collaboration come together to create a safer and more secure digital landscape for all.

Practical Application and an Empowered Workforce

The cyber operations and resilience program’s curriculum is designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of cybersecurity, encompassing both theoretical knowledge and practical application. Students engage in hands-on exercises simulating real-world cyberattacks, participate in immersive cyber escape rooms and collaborate on research projects with industry partners. This immersive approach fosters critical thinking, problem-solving and communication skills essential for navigating the ever-evolving cyber threat landscape.

The success of the cyber operations and resilience program highlights a promising model for cultivating a resilient cybersecurity workforce. By leveraging the strengths of academia, industry and community partnerships, the program demonstrates that cybersecurity expertise can blossom from diverse backgrounds and experiences. It also emphasizes the importance of accessibility and inclusivity in building a workforce that mirrors the diversity of Idaho’s communities.

The cyber operations and resilience program is not just a program but a movement toward a united and resilient community in the face of cyber threats. By empowering individuals from all walks of life to contribute to cyberspace’s collective defense, the program is building a workforce and shaping the future of cybersecurity. As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the cyber operations and resilience program stands as a beacon of hope, bridging the gap between classrooms and cyberspace and cultivating a resilient workforce for a safer digital world.

Learn More About the Bachelor of Science in Cyber Operations and Resilience

Learn More About the Master of Science in Cyber Operations and Resilience

By Zamzam Nour