Florida Trend | Florida's Business Authority

Cyber Florida's new leader stresses need to step up student enrollment

Mike McConnell, a retired U.S. Navy vice admiral and the former director of the U.S. National Security Agency, brings an extensive military and intelligence background to his new role as executive director of Tampa-based Cyber Florida. On the job since February, McConnell, 76, spoke about what he hopes to accomplish at Cyber Florida, a state-funded agency that works with each of Florida’s 12 public universities, as well private industry, the government and the military, to help grow the state’s cybersecurity industry. His initial work is focused on education, workforce development, research and outreach.

  • Education/Workforce: “The cybersecurity companies are desperate for world-class talent and so our mission is to produce that talent. One of the things we can do to help the industry is, instead of having 100 or 200 or 300 students enrolled in cyber-security curricula, either at the graduate or undergraduate level, we need 5,000. If we could produce 5,000 cyber-security graduates a year and the need stays steady, it would still take us five years to catch up to the 25,000 we need now. If we could just start to produce the graduates, it would significantly advantage the cyber-security industry in Florida. I think once you become known — it’s a little bit like Silicon Valley — people will go there because that’s where the action is. Well, we need to make the action in Florida.”
  • Research: “One of things we can cause to happen is (universities) getting federal research grants from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Security Agency, DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the Department of Defense and others to focus on some really creative cyber-security research to advance the state of the art.”
  • Outreach: “I think the fact that we’ve been forced to work from home is going to impact us culturally. I think there is going to be more online work and so, therefore, there will be more opportunity for exploitation from the bad guys. Over 90% of the penetrations of a computer — that computer being connected to a network that connects to a set of servers — 90% of those penetrations are affected by something as simple as a phishing e-mail. We have to reach out to the leadership of Florida and the citizens of Florida to affect basic cyber-hygiene and raise what I call our cyber-resilience.”
  • Cyber Florida has launched a "COVID-19 Cybersecurity Advisory Center" at cyberflorida.org to provide alerts and advice about COVID-19-related cyber-scams and threats.

Read more in Florida Trend's July issue.
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