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Springfield Cybersecurity Center to Train Students for Cyber War

A Cybersecurity Center of Excellence set to open next year will include a cyber range, or practice space, as well as a security operations center where interns will work alongside professionals to defeat real-world threats.

Peter Sherlock
Peter Sherlock, CEO of CyberTrust Massachusetts, is the keynote speaker at Bay Path University's 11th annual cybersecurity summit Friday morning, Oct. 13, 2023.
Leon Nguyen/The Republican/TNS
(TNS) — College students harnessing the latest technology in order to protect their communities from emerging global cyber threats — it sounds like the premise of a movie thriller.

It’s also what’ll really be happening at the Cybersecurity Center of Excellence after it opens next year inside Springfield Union Station thanks to state and federal funding and the cooperation of local businesses and Springfield Technical Community College, Bay Path University and Elms College.

“It’s not someone writing a lot of code with a hoodie up in the middle of the night drinking Red Bull,” said Peter Sherlock, president and CEO of Cybertrust Massachusetts, the partnership that is helping to create and will run the cybersecurity centers opening in Springfield and at Bridgewater State University, “although there is some of that.”

He spoke Friday to a crowd of about 50 in-person attendees and about 130 online viewers at Bay Path University’s 11th annual Cybersecurity Summit. It was his first speaking engagement in the area.

Threats are mounting: At least one electronic highway sign in Israel has been hacked to display anti-Israel messages and a September cyber attack cost MGM Resorts International about $100 million in expenses and lost business.

And there are not enough cybersecurity professionals to meet the need.

The MassCyberCenter at the MassTech Collaborative says there are more than 750,000 unfilled cybersecurity positions nationally, including 20,000 open jobs in Massachusetts.

Also an issue, Sherlock said, is that companies tend to hire cybersecurity employees from the same small pool drawn from major research universities, ignoring talent coming out of high schools into community colleges and other institutions.

The current recruitment pipeline also ignores people looking for a mid-career change or those from underrepresented communities.

“We can change it here in Massachusetts,” Sherlock said.

The centers at Union Station and Bridgewater State will both include a cyber range — a practice space where students learn to use the latest tools to fend off the latest threats.

He said the ranges like this will one day be as common at colleges and universities as chemistry labs.

And there will be a SOC, or security operations center, where student interns will work alongside professionals to defeat real-world threats on behalf of local governments and smaller companies that can’t afford their own cybersecurity defenses.

“I would liken it to a teaching hospital for cyber,” Sherlock said.

Asked about the emerging threats Sherlock said state actors increasingly use the same ransomware attacks both to sow confusion and to raise money for operations. They create computer programs that automate the attacks.

“It’s the industrialization of cyber war,” he said.

Bay Path has a cybersecurity major taught remotely as part of the American Woman’s College program. Its master’s of science cybersecurity program has 55 students.

Springfield Technical Community College has about 200 students in its cybersecurity programs.

U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield announced a $3 million earmark back in January funding the Cybersecurity Center of Excellence. The center had already received a $1.46 million state grant in 2022.

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