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USM Announces Federal Grant to Develop Cyber Warfare Curricula for National Guard Soldiers, Citizens

Mon, 04/29/2024 - 10:04am | By: Van Arnold

To fortify its commitment as a leader in cybersecurity education and training, The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) will use a $1.5 million Department of Labor grant to develop new cyber warfare curricula for students, faculty, and U.S. Army National Guard soldiers.

The INtegrated Cyber Instructor Training Ecosystem (IN-CITE) grant’s key objectives include:

  • Determining what skills the workforce requires to act as creative adversaries in cyber exercises.
  • Creating curricula for cyber warfare training exercises.
  • Engaging academic, military, non-military government, and industry partners as an Advisory Council to sustain advanced training content and delivery methods.

Dr. Henry Jones, Director of Research Development and Scientific Entrepreneurship at USM, will serve as Principal Investigator for the grant. He emphasizes that cybersecurity today is best addressed by an understanding that the only constant in this highly consequential field is rapid change.

“We sought this grant because through our long-term relationship with the National Guard and Camp Shelby, we saw how difficult it can be to keep soldiers up-to-date with the rapid changes in cybersecurity issues; how important it is for their personal and operational security to be educated, and that USM has cybersecurity experts nearby who have the knowledge that would make a difference,” said Jones.

Funding for this innovative training grant will be provided over a three-year period. USM’s School of Computing Sciences and Computer Engineering (CSCE) will develop the new curricula. Last July, USM received the designation as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity Defense (CAE-CD). The prestigious honor is earned via a program established by The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

“The CAE-CD designation acknowledges the contributions of our faculty to curriculum rigor, research activity, and public and private sector collaborations in cybersecurity,” said School Director Dr. Sarah Lee. “This recognition highlights USM’s leadership in traditional and non-traditional cybersecurity education in the state. On behalf of the USM School of Computer Science and Computer Engineering, I am excited to be a partner in this federal grant program that will enhance security efforts at home and abroad.”

The curricula are designed for two types of participants – National Guard soldiers who will learn the latest cybersecurity practices and how to respond to challenging threats, and U.S. citizens (USM students initially) who will learn how to be good “bad guys” in exercises that will test the soldiers.

“The Mississippi National Guard is very excited to partner with the University of Southern Mississippi to further advance cybersecurity education within our ranks,” said Maj. Gen. Janson D. Boyles, Adjutant General of Mississippi. “We value the esteemed partnership with USM’s School of Computing Sciences and Computer Engineering as we continue to advance the cybersecurity know-how and cyber warfare mitigation skills of the men and women serving in the MSNG.”

Added USM President Dr. Joseph S. Paul: “Southern Miss is proud to join our partners in the U.S. Army National Guard in developing this essential cybersecurity training. This grant deepens our connections with the National Guard and gives Southern Miss students a unique opportunity to engage with cybersecurity experts. I am confident their participation will prepare them well for careers in this rapidly growing field.”

On average, hackers attempt 26,000 cyberattacks per day, or once every three seconds, in the United States. According to Cybersecurity Ventures, the global annual cost of cybercrime is predicted to reach $9.5 trillion in 2024. Compounding this is the rising cost of damages resulting from cybercrime, which is expected to reach $10.5 trillion by 2025.

A report by IBM revealed that the average cost of a data breach was $4.35 million last year, the highest average on record, whereas the average cost of a ransomware attack was $4.54 million. For the 12th year in a row, the United States held the title for the highest cost of a data breach, $5.09M more than the global average.

“The unprecedented advances of 21st century science and technology has expanded the traditional battlefield beyond the traditional land, air, and maritime domains and into space, cyberspace and across the electromagnetic spectrum demanding that as a force, we re-think how we compete with our adversaries,” said Col. William Lee Henry, Commander Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center. “In a shift to multi and all domain operations concepts, the Army realizes the importance of increasing its focus on systems and networks to effectively operationalize cyber, information warfare, electronic warfare and space capabilities.”   

Henry stressed that collaborative research partnerships between universities and U.S. military entities such as this one between the Mississippi National Guard and Camp Shelby are critical in sustaining and enhancing national defense and homeland security missions.

“We are honored to continue our long-standing relationship with the University of Southern Mississippi in a partnership that will bring cutting edge research and technological advances to the tactical edge that will benefit our warfighters operating across the globe,” said Henry.

Jones notes that this collaborative effort will bring the latest threat and protection insights from the best sources available to all who participate.

“There are very few locations in the country where the military and academia have cybersecurity collaborations like this underway, and we aren’t aware of any who have our vision of a dynamic curriculum that will combine the most up-to-date insights from the military, academia, and industry,” said Jones.