April 24, 2014

internet

Will the Space Coast Become the Cyberspace Coast?

Jerry Jackson | 8/16/2011
Deborah Kobza
Deborah Kobza says the cybersecurity institute is working on implementing a CyberDiscovery Center "model" with the Orlando Science Center that will be rolled out across the country. [Photo: Gregg Matthews]

As thousands of jobs disappear from the Space Coast, a non-profit organization is working to redirect some of the talent pool to meet demands for expertise in another form of space — cyberspace.

The Global Institute for Cybersecurity and Research, based at Kennedy Space Center Exploration Park, is racing to fill the need for technical experts in computer security. With virtually every aspect of life and commerce now linked to the digital world, the opportunities for hackers to steal information, disrupt communication or damage operations are rising and companies must bolster defenses, says Deborah Kobza, director of the institute.

The region's educated workforce of current and former NASA and space contract workers is one advantage the area has in meeting demand for computer experts who can out-hack the hackers. The cybersecurity institute, founded in 2010, is developing a framework for industry, government and academia to collaborate, communicate and develop best practices in the field.

Coordination is essential, says Ernest McDuffie, who heads cybersecurity education for the U.S. Department of Commerce. McDuffie joined Kobza and about 30 other experts in computer security, education, telecommunications and related fields in April for a leadership conference in Orlando.

"I do think this could be a national model," McDuffie says of the Brevard-based organization. The institute has eight employees and is privately funded by the Center for Technology Innovation, which also is based on the Space Coast and fosters cooperation among Florida's technology companies. Some industries such as healthcare are belatedly shifting from paper records to computers and the internet. That offers opportunities and challenges as the industry looks to safeguard personal medical information.

Says Katherine Waldron, an IT consultant and director of economic development for the cybersecurity institute: "Many people still don't understand just how serious the threats are."

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