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Iowa Cyber Hub Program Works to Reach the Community

Members of the community are encouraged to join a new program about cybersecurity awareness, specifically those who may not be aware of their digital risks or what to do about them.

Two curled lines almost touching suggest the shape of a shield. Within the shape are the words "educate, empower, protect." Above the shield is the word "cybersecurity," and below the shield, the word "Ambassador." all this is contained within a light blue-rimmed square with a white background.
Iowa Cyber Hub's Cybersecurity Ambassador Program logo
A new community ambassador program in Iowa is trying to tell people that they are at risk of a cyber attack — whether they know it or not.

“This is really focused on the layperson, the average citizen in Iowa,said Doug Jacobson, executive director of the Iowa Cyber Hub.

The Iowa Cyber Hub is the co-creation of Iowa State University and Des Moines Area Community College, intended to support residents interested in cybersecurity and cyber careers. It started its Cybersecurity Ambassador program on Oct. 31.

“People in rural settings, in general, don't have much exposure to cybersecurity. And they don't always see themselves as a potential victim,” Jacobson said.

Nearly 20 percent of Iowa’s population is over 65 years old, per the Census, and Jacobson said the elderly population face many online scams. Meanwhile, businesses like those in Iowa’s important agricultural and small manufacturing industries are often targeted with business email compromise (BEC). And ransomware continues to threaten schools and large organizations.

Iowa Cyber Hub’s Cybersecurity Ambassador Program aims to mobilize students in high school, 4-H programs, community colleges and the like to learn about cybersecurity and then share their knowledge locally, by giving talks at middle schools, senior living centers and other places in their communities.

The program also looks to connect and support cybersecurity professionals who already give community outreach talks. Iowa Cyber Hub intends to hold an annual October celebration for all ambassadors, creating an opportunity to network and share tips. Plus, a forthcoming online portal will give a streamlined way for organizations to reach out when they want to request cyber professionals to give a talk.

“It’s really all part of making cybersecurity just part of general conversation,” Jacobson said.

The initiative comes at a time when the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has been emphasizing the need to reach the general public, with the launch of its Secure Our World initiative.

The Iowa Cyber Hub is creating online informational resources to support ambassadors. In part, the site will compile and curate existing materials from the likes of CISA and the FBI, making them easy to find. The Hub also may provide advice for ambassadors hosting discussions with the community. And it hopes to have ambassadors contribute new materials as well.
The words "cyber house rock!" stacked on top of each other, in bold and blue. To the left, an anthropomorphic cartoon robot peeks out from behind the words and smiles and winks. On the top right of the logo, a planet with starts and a ring pokes out from behind the words. A vertical blue rectangle containing 4 asterixis  stack one atop the the other is displayed to the right of the words.
The Cyber House Rock! logo
The site also includes sections for the general public, such as educational materials aimed at unpacking phishing and multifactor authentication as well as those “demystifying” how parts of the Internet work, like URLs and email.

One of the early-stage efforts is Cyber House Rock, a collection of educational songs, some with animated videos, in the vein of School House Rock. (“I’m Just a Bill,” meet “I’m Just a URL.”)

The Ambassador program is just getting started. This month is the start of efforts to establish membership chapters, with Jacobson hoping to get at least a dozen formed and active by the end of the academic year. Jacobson hopes that by next fall the number will grow to include several dozen chapters at high schools and about half a dozen at community colleges.

The youth chapters will provide structure and guidance for student members. Chapters comprising cyber professionals, meanwhile, will be more loosely organized and largely aim to help them work together and receive requests for help via the forthcoming portal.

“We had the kickoff event about a week ago, and we’ve gotten dozens of emails already from people wanting to be involved,” including from businesses wanting employees to participate and libraries wanting to host chapters, Jacobson said. “… The number of opportunities are bigger than what we first thought. People have been coming to us with ideas on new types of ways to engage ambassadors.”
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a senior staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.