Digital crime by an anonymous hacker

Cyber attacks are a daily occurrence, and they don’t always happen to huge firms with deep pockets.

During the past Fourth of July weekend, for example, the Dublin-based IT solutions developer Kaseya was a cyberattack victim, and it is estimated that 800 to 1,500 of its small to medium-sized business clients may have been compromised by ransomware.

In May of this year, a different type of attack caused a similar shortage when the Colonial Pipeline, headquartered in Alpharetta, Ga., was forced to close operations and freeze its IT systems. Colonial became the victim of a cyberattack by a Russia-linked cybercrime group known as DarkSide.

Colonial Pipeline provides about 45% of the gasoline, diesel, home heating oil, jet fuel, and military supplies distributed to the East Coast – 100 million gallons of fuel transported daily from Texas to New York, including a segment through the South Carolina Upstate.

To help business owners and others prevent these types of attack, the University of South Carolina-Beaufort is offering a Cyber Resilience Course from Oct. 3 through Nov. 4 for anyone interested in developing a security systems plan of action. It is specifically designed for small and medium-sized businesses but is open to anyone.

The 25-hour online course will concentrate on the requirements necessary to meet various levels of compliance with the Department of Defense Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC). The course provides an understanding of DOD cybersecurity requirements necessary as a contractor with the federal government.

“To our knowledge it is the only substantive, online course of its type being offered in our region at present,” said Warren Parker, chairman of the South Coast Cyber Center in Beaufort. The center is a 501(c)(3) partnership that includes USCB, Technical College of the Lowcountry, the Beaufort Digital Corridor and Beaufort County Economic Development Corporation.

“Our basic purpose is to enhance cybersecurity education with cyber workforce development, encouraging cyber startups and the attraction of cyber firms to the Beaufort region,” Parker said. “We think the area is one of our strengths. We think there’s a real opportunity, given the fact there is about a 300,000-plus shortage of cybersecurity professionals.”

The cyber center’s plans are to help recent graduates, people leaving the military, and other residents find high-paying jobs by providing affordable and relevant cybersecurity education and training.

“The field is growing faster than any other profession every year. We’ve got a four-year university and a two-year technical college here. We have over 1,000 people leaving the Marine Corps every year who could be part of this cybersecurity world,” Parker said. “We think we’ve got a place where people want come to, stay and work, the quality of life is good, and that we, in fact, would be a natural home for cybersecurity businesses.”

Cybersecurity is one of the newest degree programs being offered as USCB expands its computer science and cybersecurity curriculum offerings.

TCL also is working toward becoming a center of excellence in cybersecurity with its two-year certificate program.

As the primary recipient of a $1.3 million federal grant from DOD Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation, USCB will work closely with its co-recipients to develop the South Coast Cyber Center’s faculty, curriculum, technology and facilities. A key goal for the grant is to establish both the TCL and USCB as Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) through certification of these respective institutions’ two-year and four-year cybersecurity programs by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

Dean Bushey, director of Cybersecurity Education and associate professor of computer science, is responsible for the development of the cybersecurity program at USCB. The proposed degree program is just beginning to solidify, and the first course might start as early as this fall semester, although that is not firmed up, Bushey said.

“We developed this curriculum last spring and got it approved in March, but when it gets approved in March, it has to go through the curriculum change committee and the board, and it didn’t get approved until April. By then, most students had already chosen their fall classes,” said Bushey. The first class will be Digital Forensics, which will include components that will be held on the Bluffton campus, at the district attorney’s office, and virtually, he added.

Proposed classes include courses on ethical hacking – how to break into computer systems; network security; cryptography – securing data; and cyber law – law that applies to the digital realm.

“I’m hoping the response from current and future students would be fantastic. You can’t just build it and hope they will come. You have to educate the students to the opportunity, because it’s so much in the news about hacking,” said Bushey. “All the news makes it apparent to students that this is a field that is cool. I think we’re going to have a core of 25 to 30 core students in five years. I think it’s going to explode.”

“We’re looking to create high-skilled, high-wage jobs in cybersecurity,” said Parker of South Coast. “The need is out there. Those people with analytical capabilities and some technical training need to look at it as a future profession. There are a lot of jobs right here: hospitals, critical infrastructure such as power companies, banks – all of whom are desperately in need of cybersecurity professionals.”

The press release about the grant stated that a key goal is to establish both TCL and USCB as Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD) through certification of these respective institutions’ two-year and four-year cybersecurity programs by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. Such certification will open many doors for graduates.

“From the student perspective, it opens up great opportunities for scholarships to attend graduate school,” said Bushey. “If they wanted to work for the government at organizations such as the National Security Agency, Homeland Security or the Department of Defense, they would all recognize that you’re certified from a CAE-CD institution.”

There are normally 18 applications for every job in the high-tech world; in the cyber defense world there are three applicants for every job.

“When you think about the industry – I cannot think of an industry that doesn’t use cyber defense,” Bushey added. “The opportunities to figure out what you want to do and where you want to live are wide open.”

To register for the Cyber Resilience Course, go to uscb.edu/lifelong_learning/continuing_education.html. There is no deadline; space is limited.

Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.