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Higher Ed's Growing Consortium of Cybersecurity Clinics

Since its launch in 2021, a network of educators, experts and IT security advocates has become a forum for dozens of institutions to learn from one another and establish their own cybersecurity training "clinics."

As public- and private-sector industries grapple with an increase in cyber attacks and a shortage of IT talent, higher education institutions have increased their focus on cybersecurity training, as well as securing their own growing networks for remote learning. With these trends in mind, several universities are now partnering with one another through the newly formed Consortium of Cybersecurity Clinics to share best practices across these fronts and to help others secure their networks.

According to the consortium’s website, the launch of the consortium was spearheaded by UC Berkeley’s Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity (CLTC) with the goal of creating a forum for educators, experts and IT security advocates to network with and share cybersecurity insights with each other. The growing organization also helps schools establish their own cybersecurity “clinics” where students can gain hands-on IT security experience at nonprofits, hospitals, municipalities, small businesses and other under-resourced organizations.

Since its launch in 2021, CLTC Executive Director Ann Cleaveland said the consortium has grown to include about 50 colleges and universities across the U.S. and globally looking to establish or improve their own clinics, and includes institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Washington, Cleveland State, Clemson University, the University of Georgia and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, among others. The consortium also launched a new website in June to share teaching resources, curricula, video-based case studies and other instructional materials.

"The response to it has really surprised us," she said. "People wanted to meet every month, and it's grown from three or four clinics to dozens of people who either are from colleges or universities that have cybersecurity clinics, are in the scoping phases of cybersecurity clinics, are interested in experiential cybersecurity education or are allies in training under-resourced organizations in cybersecurity."

According to Cleaveland, the initiative is the first of its kind in higher education to bring together institutions and IT industry experts with the goal of bolstering their cybersecurity training and research efforts across industries and sectors. She noted the need is particularly important today, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected in 2020 that demand for IT security professionals would grow by 33 percent by 2030.

"We hear all the time from employers that they can't hire enough trained cybersecurity students, whether that's at UC Berkeley, the University of Alabama or any of the other institutions, and that the students we're sending don't have enough hands-on experience or professional experience, so they have to spend the first six months training them," she said. "Clinics are really filling this need for increasing the size of the cybersecurity workforce, as well as sending students into the workforce already with hands-on experience ... The consortium is a platform to increase the visibility of cybersecurity clinics as a successful piece of the solution to providing all of society cybersecurity."

According to Cleaveland, each clinic has its own areas of focus. For instance, UC Berkeley’s Citizen Clinic works globally with nonprofit clients at risk of politically motivated cyber attacks, such as women’s reproductive rights organizations and LGBTQ+ and international Indigenous rights groups, according to a blog co-authored by Cleaveland on Clinics such as those at Indiana University and University of Alabama focus much of their work on helping under-resourced small businesses, while MIT and others work with local government organizations.

Cleaveland said the University of Georgia and University of Texas at Austin recently started their own cybersecurity clinics with the help of the consortium, which is looking to expand its international footprint in the years ahead.

"We've recently begun discussions between the Berkeley clinic and the city and county of San Francisco about partnering to provide cybersecurity assistance to community-based organizations that work with the city," she added. "The new clinic at UT Austin also has a formal partnership with the city of Austin, so I think one of the macro trends around this is both local and state governments seeing that university-based clinics are an incredible technical assistance resource in their communities.”

She said the launch of the program was initiated in part by a growing sense of urgency across industries as schools, universities, companies and government organizations fight an uphill battle against cyber crimes like ransomware halting operations and costing entities billions.

"The ransomware epidemic and things like Colonial Pipeline have shown us that everybody is a target, so all of the sudden people are waking up to this need," she said, noting that cybersecurity used to be a niche subject. "Today it's on the agenda of every Fortune 500 board, and that has trickled out into higher education as well, with many universities expanding or creating new cybersecurity programs ... The purpose of the consortium was to scale up cybersecurity clinics, and our vision is that there will be a university- or college-based cybersecurity clinic in every state of the country serving every region, and that communities will know they can turn to these pro bono cybersecurity clinics for assistance."
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.