September 17, 2021
Taking Florida Cybersecurity to the Next Level

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Taking Florida Cybersecurity to the Next Level

Cyber Florida, partner universities enable programs and partnerships to reach Floridians across the state

| 6/28/2021

Cyberattacks are like the movie “Groundhog Day.” Every week, like clockwork, the headlines reveal yet another attack. Solar Winds, Oldsmar, and Colonial Pipeline are just the latest—each different in detail but all the same in theme—and they reveal how vulnerable the US is to cybercriminals. Indeed, cyberattacks cost American businesses and governments upwards of $1 trillion a year.

“Since the dawn of our digitally connected world, cybercriminals have relentlessly exploited our cybersecurity vulnerabilities,” said Mike McConnell, Executive Director of the Florida Center for Cybersecurity (also known as Cyber Florida) and a career intelligence official who served as Director of U.S. National Intelligence. “Academic institutions, government agencies, and employers must work collaboratively to be hyper-vigilant against these assaults.”

COVID-19 has made it even worse, forcing Americans to “live life online” as they shop, go to school and work—even interact with friends—virtually. In too many cases, they do so with vulnerable devices, questionable networks, and above all, bad cybersecurity habits. The result? Even more vulnerability, from potential data theft and disruption to disinformation and economic espionage.

That’s where Cyber Florida comes in. Hosted by the University of South Florida (USF) since 2013, its mission is to make Florida the most ‘cyber-secure’ state by leading and supporting the faculty and students of Florida’s top-ranked State University System (SUS). Working with these institutions, the Center has rolled out sweeping initiatives in education, research, and outreach over the past year to take Florida “to the next level” in cybersecurity.

Cyber Education: Building the Pipeline. Cyber Florida has led the SUS to offer more degrees that contribute to the cyber workforce to meet the escalating demand for cyber professionals. For example, the Center helped USF develop four new graduate programs, ranging from cyber engineering and management to cyber intelligence and cybercrime.

Working with the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Center for Instructional Technology, and local school districts, Cyber Florida is spearheading initiatives in 39 counties to increase the talent pipeline, including summer camps; a high school career prep course; financial “bounties” for teachers who help kids get cyber-certified; and a major project with the New America Foundation to help K-12 students become more savvy “cyber citizens.”

Research: At the Cutting Edge. Cyber Florida has partnered with the University of West Florida on two NSA grants to help colleges across the region offer more programs and to train transitioning veterans and first responders for cyber careers. The University of Central Florida—and its nationally ranked hacking team—is helping us develop a national intercollegiate cybersecurity competition under a third NSA grant, while Florida International University is contributing to the national cybersecurity policy debate. The University of Florida is helping plan a conference series highlighting the exceptional research conducted by SUS scholars.

This year, Cyber Florida dedicated research funding to urgent topics. Look for an upcoming report examining the explosion of cybercrime during the COVID-19 pandemic and a second report detailing the influence (good and bad) of social media on the public health behaviors of Floridians during the pandemic slated for the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Outreach: Raising the Bar on Cybersecurity Practice. Cyber Florida has led the SUS in public outreach and engagement, recently sponsoring a major conference on the national security aspects of cybersecurity with US Central Command and National Defense University. The event featured four sitting four-star generals, three cabinet officials, a former Congressman, and a host of thought leaders. With over 1,000 attendees, the event firmly established the Center as a voice on the national stage. Plans are underway for a video and book chronicling the conference, as well as follow-on events with Joint Special Operations University.

On the public sector front, the Center is working with: the Florida League of Cities and affiliates to host workshops for local government officials and prepare a legislative proposal to shore up public cyber defenses; the Florida Sheriffs Association to prepare law enforcement officers to combat cybercrime; local elected officials to help fund more K-12 initiatives; Florida’s Secretary of State to conduct an election security voter awareness campaign; and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to train hundreds of defense contractors to meet the Department of Defense’s new cybersecurity standards.

These are a few examples of the work that the Florida Center for Cybersecurity, Florida’s SUS institutions, and many dedicated public officials and private sector leaders have done to advance the state-of-the-art in the Sunshine State. But there’s more to come, and much more to do. To learn more, help support, or participate in Cyber Florida’s growing portfolio of programs, visit cyberflorida.org.

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