NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was an unlikely presence at this year’s annual SXSW interactive music festival in Austin, Texas. His clarion call for vigilant cyber security during a live video conference on March 10 was even more unexpected.
“America has more to lose than anyone else when every attack succeeds,” Snowden said. “When you are the one country in the world who has sort of a vault that’s more full than anyone else’s, it doesn’t make sense for you to be attacking all day and never defending your full vault.”
His charge was prescient: Cyberattacks rose by 14 percent in 2013, causing President Obama to propose the creation of a $35 million cybersecurity campus staffed with federal experts responding to cyberthreats in his fiscal 2015 budget.
Until then, the mid-Atlantic state of Delaware is working to train the individuals who can fill the plugs in the cybersecurity workforce. It’s all part of the Delaware Cyber Initiative, a cross-discipline effort to create a talented crop of cybersecurity workers.
In an ever-changing job market, the cybersecurity field is a large, stable one. According to Burning Glass Technologies, the demand for qualified workers is more than double the overall IT job market. The shortage isn’t just troubling for employers — lax security invites hackers, both in large companies like Target and in the government. As Governing reports, South Carolina learned a costly $14 million lesson in 2012 when hackers broke into the state’s Department of Revenue computers, exposing millions of Social Security numbers, thousands of credit card numbers and other personal information. Such incidents are more likely with insufficient employees.
That’s where the Delaware Cyber Initiative comes in. Governor Jack Markell announced the $3 million proposal in January as a way to unite academia, workers, the private sector, and even the Delaware National Guard to develop a skilled and innovative cybersecurity workforce. To do so, Markell envisions a partnership between the University of Delaware, Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College and private companies to create a collaborative learning and research network dedicated to cyber innovation. The initiative is part-research lab, part-workforce development and part-business park.
The work done there will prepare individuals to be future cybersecurity experts that can expect to earn $15,000 more a year than general IT workers. “There’s a significant number of jobs available for cyber graduates in the area,” Ann Visalli, the state’s director of the Office of Management and Budget told Governing. In a state that’s home to the DuPont chemical company and many banking and financial services due to its generous tax laws, that’s a big deal. And it’s good for Delaware, too— since it’ll stem the brain drain in a state with a need for highly-skilled workers.
Delaware plans to locate the cyber facility on the site of a former Chrysler assembly plant that’s now owned by the University of Delaware. The university business park setting is borrowed from other states, where non-profits and businesses in close proximity to academic research have promoted innovation and quality training. For a field that aims to make everyone and everything safer, that is a very good thing.