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New Institute for Cybersecurity and Digital Trust positioned to lead

artistic photo of laptop computerFrom Apple and Google, to the entire City of New Orleans, the hacking hits just kept coming in 2019. One industry publication labeled ongoing national cybersecurity issues “a hot mess,” while a Forbes contributor ominously refers to 2020 as the “threatscape” that lies ahead.

What’s the one bright spot in all of this for a university? The career openings for data security graduates are unprecedented.

On January 17, The Ohio State University Office of Research launched plans to embrace this opportunity with the new Institute for Cybersecurity and Digital Trust (ICDT). Co-led by Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Chair and Professor Hesham El Gamal and Ohio State's Chief Information Security Officer Helen Patton, the goal is to organize the university’s collective data security assets and team up with partners statewide.

Office of Research Senior Vice President Morley Stone gave the green light for the project. With more than 25 years of cross-disciplinary experience in research and development, he also previously served as chief technology officer at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. He said three years ago AFRL had two people working in the cybersecurity realm. Today, there are more than 100, with 17 new job openings.

“That’s just a reflection of this insatiable need they have for graduates who have skills in this area,” Stone said.

He attributed the growth to the U.S. Department of Defense updating its Top 10 priorities for 2020, and cybersecurity came in at number two. The demand for data security research proposals to fund is growing.

Electrical engineering alumnus Don Boian, an accomplished technology leader and award-winning information security expert, is the cybersecurity outreach director for Huntington Bank. He provided the national perspective at the January planning event.

“A couple months ago there were 504,000 open positions in cybersecurity at companies across the United States,” he said. “In Ohio, there are 17,700 open positions, with 5,130 open positions in Columbus alone. The need will only increase.”

Boian said the cybersecurity and data protection world is rapidly evolving. “Trust is at the core of cybersecurity, and the impact Ohio State can have in this area is immense. This is a huge initiative that we need to take on in order to secure our state.”

Within its first year, ICDT will create a strategic plan to work across departments and define strengths, then develop a cyber range at Ohio State for product development, testing, training, educational and outreach opportunities.

The university has defined over 40 faculty from five colleges researching various components of cybersecurity who will cooperate.

El Gamal talked about the journey getting to know Ohio State’s faculty and students involved in cybersecurity, and feels honored getting to learn about their collective work. Internationally-respected cybersecurity professor and information theorist, Aylin Yener, also joined the ECE department this month as part of the university’s goals.

Patton has worked in cybersecurity for decades, admitting it's not an easy line of work. 

“The reason I do security goes back to the mid-1990s,” she said. “Y2K, the northeast power outages, 9/11, all those seminal moments we have as a culture around safety and security and trust. If I had to sum up why I do security, I would say ‘vanilla ice cream.’”

Patton strives for dependability and reliability.

“I want to be able to park in the same spot every time I come to work. I want to have a boring, reliable, not noteworthy life. Cybersecurity issues stop me from doing that,” she said.

In the financial sector, Patton said, the end game is pretty clear. At Ohio State, however, the security concerns run across the board.

“What’s the crown jewels at Ohio State? Is it our patients? Is it our research data? Is it our plants, or our research labs? Is it our students? Is it our financial data?” Patton said. “What I have found over time is I can’t solve this issue myself. I can’t solve it as a practitioner. You can’t solve it as a researcher. You can’t solve it as a student. We need to come together to be able to do that.”

by Ryan Horns, Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering