RIT aims to be a cyber defense leader

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RIT’s Global Cybersecurity Institute is slated to open next fall.
(Rendering courtesy of RIT)

Rochester Institute of Technology hopes to avert a talent shortage in cybersecurity. With its Global Cybersecurity Institute, slated to open next fall, the university aims to educate more professionals, conduct research, and offer other training and development opportunities.

Last month, former Xerox chief technology officer Steve Hoover was named the institute’s endowed executive director, charged with the making RIT a nexus of cybersecurity education and research. 

Ultimately, Hoover hopes the Global Cybersecurity Institute will strengthen the Rochester brand in technology, and help to both draw and attract businesses and talent to the region. 

He answered a few questions posed by the Beacon on the institute’s plans.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What makes RIT a good location for a global Cybersecurity Institute?

Steve Hoover is executive director of RIT’s Global Cybersecurity Institute.
(Photo by A. Sue Weisler)

STEVE HOOVER: RIT has a long history of impact in technology through an unusual combination of three things: great scholarship, strong education, and highly impactful commercial and government collaboration. We are well known generally for our ability to graduate students with both strong theoretical and practical knowledge and to translate our research into real-world impact. As an example, our co-op program is a key enabler and is considered a benchmark for higher education across the nation. In terms of industrial impact, a great example is the Eaton Cybersecurity SAFE (Security Assessment and Forensic Examination) Lab, where members of the RIT community are already helping companies design security into their products. Our students also have many other interactions with industry through our research collaborations and startups. 

In general, RIT is a great place to combine deep knowledge of a technical area with the ability to deploy that in the real world for real-world impact. As a result, our graduates are highly sought after by both industry and government, and we have a strong and growing research agenda and funding. 

Specifically, in cybersecurity, we have already built a great academic department in our computing college. It has been recognized by the NSA and the DHS, as RIT was designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in both Cyber Defense Research (CAE-R) and in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CD). We were also given $5.5 million in grant funding to run the NSF’s CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service program, which provides scholarships for students in return for committing to work for the U.S. government in cybersecurity. Finally, our students are great competitors in national collegiate cybersecurity competitions, including NCCDC and the CPTC, which help to train students in simulations of real-world cyberattacks. RIT is a perennial contender at both national competitions, beating student teams from Syracuse University, Northeastern University and Harvard.

ROCHESTER BEACON: What is on your to-do list as you prepare for the institute’s launch next year?

HOOVER: There are many things we need to put in place to fully launch the center next year.  However, one key focus is the creation of our Cyber Range. 

The Cyber Range will be a benchmark facility that enables the creation of real-world cyberattack simulations over networks with thousands of servers. This facility will help us provide a great testbed for both research and education to develop defenses and countermeasures to cyberattacks. The ability to simulate these attacks will help us provide real-world training not only for our students, but also for industry and government officials. 

The complexity of real-world attacks is hard to overestimate—they are of course technically complex but they also have highly complex challenges in teamwork and communication with both the internal organization as well as customers and constituents. Preparing for that by reading or reviewing a PowerPoint is great, but nothing beats a real-world simulation. 

We expect industry and government partners to use the facility frequently for training and other technology assessments. Of course, our students will be learning in the range as well. 

The ability to simulate real-world attacks safely will also be a key enabler for strong research. The ability to develop and demonstrate new technical approaches to cyber defense will help us do better research than many leading institutions. 

So, a key focus for the team over the next year is making sure we really understand the needs of our external partners in industry and government for the Cyber Range. We’re going to translate those needs and our vision into a great Cyber Range. We will also be broadening our strong research agenda in areas such as cyberattack prediction.

ROCHESTER BEACON: How will you measure the institute’s success? What are some of the metrics that you expect to keep an eye on?

HOOVER: RIT students are graduating with bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees focusing on computing security. Obviously, we’ll be tracking their job placements and further education. We are already planning to double the number of master’s in computing security degree graduates from 50 to 100 over the next several years. There is a national shortage in the number of people qualified to work in cybersecurity and RIT is working to turn around this crisis.

In addition, we will be tracking our research grants, publications and patents with the goal of doubling our research footprint. Finally, since a key focus in the Cyber Range is training and use by commercial and government partners, we will be tracking those in both quantity and quality. We expect to train several hundred cybersecurity professionals using the new facility.

ROCHESTER BEACON:  What do you hope the institute will do for Rochester as a community? 

HOOVER: Rochester has a growing technology community and a strong business community that needs advanced cybersecurity skills. We think that RIT’s Global Cybersecurity Institute will strengthen the Rochester brand in technology and help to both draw and attract businesses and talent to the region. 

Cybersecurity skills are clearly key to future jobs, not only directly in cybersecurity but in many other fields. Helping to make Rochester a center for both research and education in this critical field will definitely help make this a more attractive area for technology companies and many others. There are already companies in cybersecurity that are starting up and moving to Rochester—based on RIT’s ability to develop talented graduates. In June, Security Risk Advisors, a Philadelphia-based cybersecurity and risk management consulting company, announced that they are opening a new office in Rochester. RIT graduates also started the company Token, which is creating a biometric identity ring that lets people live keyless, cardless and free of passwords.

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon’s managing editor.

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