At one point or another, much of the U.S.’s data passes through Georgia.
The state is a financial technology capital, with 70 percent of all payment transactions handled in Atlanta. And Georgia is a major internet access point for not only the Southeast but also the Caribbean and part of South America, says Stanton Gatewood, the state’s chief information security officer.
“We have a tremendous amount of information flowing through the state of Georgia,” he says.
But as more data is generated online, cybersecurity resources struggle to keep up. In 2017, the cybersecurity workforce gap was expected to hit 1.8 million people by 2022, a 20 percent increase since 2015. Sources say a shortage exists because cybersecurity is a relatively new academic field, so people haven’t had ample opportunity to undergo the proper training and gain necessary skills. “The crush of demand is coming at once, and academia can’t really keep up,” says Michael Farrell, co-executive director of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Institute for Information Security & Privacy.
In the face of this issue, Georgia is working to become a cybersecurity hub, amassing an arsenal of initiatives. The U.S. Army Cyber Command is moving from Virginia to Fort Gordon army base, right next to Augusta, Georgia. It will join the National Security Agency’s Augusta cryptologic center, which focuses on signals intelligence intercepts.
Augusta is also getting the Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center, a cyber range and training facility in the city’s downtown. The state has given $93 million to fund this cyber range.
“The reality is our state, Georgia, is making a major investment into information cybersecurity,” says Marci McCarthy, CEO and president of T.E.N., an information security executive networking firm in Atlanta. “We see it as a real foundation for business opportunities that are paying jobs and the better overall livelihood and quality of life here in Georgia.”
The state’s cyber range will educate up to 500 students at a time, says Michael Shaffer, Augusta University’s executive vice president of strategic partnerships and economic development. The center will eventually have two buildings, each 167,000 square feet. The first one opens July 10.
“In cyber, it is a constant learning. You never stop learning, and when new platforms and new things come out, you have to go back and get additional training,” Shaffer says.
The cyber range will help keep cybersecurity professionals’ knowledge up to date, and with the workforce shortage, it will act as a talent pool for companies. “It will be a hotbed of a place for them to be able to find their future workforce,” Shaffer says.
The Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center is also a meeting point. It brings together public and private sectors in one place to allow collaboration, says Calvin Rhodes, chief information officer for the state of Georgia and executive director of the Georgia Technology Authority.
“Things are changing so rapidly that we have to bring together academia and government, our military partners and also our private sector partners,” Rhodes says.
Georgia has also set its sights on K-12 students. Augusta schools, including Augusta University, worked together to create the Alliance for Cybersecurity Education, a cybersecurity track offered in high schools across the state, Shaffer says. And the NSA sponsors coursework for the GenCyber Camp in Augusta, one of many across the country. In summer 2017, the camp had three groups – two for high school students and one for teachers.
“It is a place where they start making sure students responsibly are looking at this as a career,” Shaffer says.
So why does Georgia have so many cybersecurity resources?
Academia is part of the answer. Georgia Tech, which has offered a master’s degree in cybersecurity for 15 years, plays a large role in the state’s cybersecurity ecosystem, says Wenke Lee, co-executive director of the Institute for Information Security & Privacy.
To fill a need for more comprehensive cybersecurity education, Georgia Tech expanded its master’s degree to three tracks: information security, policy and risk management, and cyber-physical systems, which is the integration of physical and software components. “We’re realizing cybersecurity is not just IT security anymore,” Lee says. “It’s not just a technical IT security issue.”
And Georgia has had involvement in the cybersecurity industry for a while. Before the Army Cyber Command came to Augusta, Fort Gordon already housed the NSA and the U.S. Army Cyber Center of Excellence, which graduated its first class in 2017.
It seems that the Cyber Command’s relocation to Georgia has also inspired some initiatives. Shaffer says the idea for the Alliance for Cybersecurity Education, the cybersecurity track in high school, began when the Cyber Command started considering a move to Augusta.
McCarthy says in addition to research centers such as Georgia Tech, Georgia has a strong cybersecurity industry because of organizations such as the Technology Association of Georgia.
“There’s very strong connections here in Georgia,” she says. “My company was started here. We were able to build the foundation that we needed to do that, to do it on a national and North American scale.”
Cybersecurity also nurtures economic development. One former cybersecurity executive said the Augusta region – not including the rest of Georgia – has the potential to turn its cyber assets into a $1 billion-a-year industry.
Georgia’s businesses have had a hand in helping the state became a cybersecurity center, Farrell of Georgia Tech says. The financial technology industry cannot exist without security. IBM is a big employer in the state, and State Farm – part of the largest corporate office project in metro Atlanta’s history – has a massive cybersecurity operation, he says.
Farrell says Georgia strategically builds on its resources at Fort Gordon and Georgia Tech. “I think basically the state is trying to be opportunistic, and I mean that not at all in a pejorative way but in a very flattering way, by taking advantage of those things,” he says.
That seems to explain Georgia’s approach to cybersecurity. Rhodes, Georgia’s chief information officer, says closing the workforce gap requires elements from academia to companies to government.
“We have to look at this as a large puzzle,” he says. “There’s pieces of the puzzle that we’ll place into the puzzle that will help make the ecosystem better, but it’s all of us working together, collaborating together that’s going to solve this problem. There’s no one silver bullet.”