Vice President Biden Visits Norfolk, Va., Talks Cybersecurity

Too few students are pursuing degrees in the field to meet demand for workers who protect the nation’s computer networks from attacks, Biden said, something the Department of Energy's $25 million in grants over the next five years aims to fix.

by Mike Hixenbaugh, The Virginian-Pilot / January 16, 2015
Vice President Biden Flickr/Jim Greenhill
(TNS) Vice President Joe Biden visited Norfolk State University on Thursday to highlight a program that will give historically black colleges and universities millions of dollars to train students for jobs in cybersecurity.

NSU will be the lead campus in a new consortium that will includes 12 other historically black colleges, two national research labs and a school division in South Carolina, Biden announced during the visit. He was joined by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and other officials.

The Department of Energy will supply the national cybersecurity consortium with $25 million in grants over the next five years, part of the Obama administration’s effort to train more workers for jobs protecting the nation’s computer networks from attacks.

The threat offers both a problem and an opportunity, said Biden, whose quick visit snarled midday traffic between Norfolk Naval Station, where his plane landed, and NSU.

The massive hack at Sony several weeks ago underscored the seriousness of the issue, and as private companies and governments work to counter the threat, the cybersecurity industry is growing 12 times faster than the rest of the economy.

Too few students are pursuing degrees in the field to meet demand for workers, Biden said.

“We can’t afford to have a gigantic chunk of the population – women and minorities – left out of this opportunity,” Biden said at the start of a roundtable discussion with local business and educational leaders. Reporters were required to leave the meeting after opening remarks by Biden and McAuliffe.

Before the roundtable, the officials visited a computer lab, where about a dozen students were learning how to expose vulnerabilities in a computer network. Their mission: Find weaknesses in the system that could be exploited by hackers, then develop a way to block them.

NSU, which offers a master’s degree in cybersecurity, is already a leader in the field, Biden told the classroom of mostly black students.

“You guys are the vanguard; we need badly for you guys to stick with it and attract other minorities,” Biden said. “It’s not because we’re trying to be socially correct. It’s because it’s a wasted asset.”

The federal money will be used to buy computers, train instructors and connect students with internship opportunities. Biden told the students they’ll make good money right out of college, with an average starting salary above $85,000 a year.

“These are good middle-class jobs,” he said.

The announcement was a shot of good news for a school that has had a run of bad headlines. Last month, NSU was placed on probation by its accrediting agency after it uncovered problems with the university’s administration, governance and finances.

Before Biden left campus, NSU student Aaron McFall gave the vice president an impromptu lesson on protecting his own computer accounts from hackers: Use a complicated password, change it often and never share it, he said.

Biden laughed: “You know, he sounds like the director of the CIA. He told me the same thing.”

©2015 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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