Newly-launched Institute for Cybersecurity and Digital Trust leading toward data security

Posted: February 28, 2020

From Apple and Google, to the entire City of New Orleans, the hacking hits just kept coming in 2019. One industry publication labeled ongoing national cybersecurity issues “a hot mess,” while another ominously refers to 2020 as the “threatscape” that lies ahead.

What’s the one bright spot in all of this for students at The Ohio State University? The career openings for data security graduates are unprecedented.

On Jan. 17, the Office of Research launched plans to embrace this opportunity with the new Institute for Cybersecurity and Digital Trust (ICDT). Co-led by Ohio State’s Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Chair and Professor Hesham El Gamal and Chief Information Security Officer Helen Patton, the goal is to organize the university’s collective data security assets and team up with partners statewide.

Morley Stone, senior vice president for the Office of Research, gave the green light for the project. With more than 25 years of cross-disciplinary experience in research and development, he also previously served as chief technology officer at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton.

Three years ago, he said, AFRL had two people working in the cybersecurity realm. Today, there are more than 100, with 17 new job openings.

“That’s just a reflection of this insatiable need they have for graduates who have skills in this area,” Stone said.

CLICK PHOTO: watch a video interview with Patton and El Gamal discussing the newly-launched ICDT initiative.

The reason is because the U.S. Department of Defense updated its Top 10 priorities for 2020, he said, and Cybersecurity came in at No. 2. The demand for data security research proposals to fund is growing.

Don Boian, an accomplished technology leader and award-winning information security expert, is the Cybersecurity Outreach Director for Huntington Bank. He provided the national perspective.

“A couple months ago there were 504,000 open positions in cybersecurity at companies across the United States,” he said. “In Ohio, there are 17,700 open positions, with 5,130 open positions in Columbus alone. The need will only increase.”

Boian said the cybersecurity and data protection world is rapidly evolving. The threats, the capabilities and Ohio State’s collective need for talent and groundbreaking research must continue to evolve as well.

“Trust is at the core of cybersecurity, and the impact Ohio State can have in this area is immense,” Boian said. “This is a huge initiative that we need to take on in order to secure our state.”

Within its first year, the Office of Research reported, ICDT will create a strategic plan to work across departments and define strengths, then develop a cyber range at Ohio State for product development, testing, training, educational and outreach opportunities.

The university has defined over 40 faculty from five colleges researching various components of cybersecurity who will cooperate.

For his part, El Gamal admitted he is learning to collaborate more in order to help sculpt new related research and curriculum at Ohio State. 

“I actually need to talk to political scientists and social psychologists? You really don’t understand. Those people may not actually agree that linear algebra is the source of all knowledge,” he joked. 

El Gamal talked about the journey getting to know Ohio State’s faculty and students involved in cybersecurity, and feels honored getting to learn about their collective work. Internationally-respected cybersecurity professor and information theorist, Aylin Yener, also joined the ECE department this month as part of the university’s goals.

Patton has worked in cybersecurity for decades, admitting it's not an easy line of work. Most Chief Information Security Officers last, on average, two years in their roles. She said every time a company is hacked the CISO gets the boot first.

“The reason I do security goes back to the mid-1990s,” Patton said. “Y2K, the northeast power outages, 9/11, all those seminal moments we have as a culture around safety and security and trust. If I had to sum up why I do security, I would say ‘vanilla ice cream.’”

Patton strives for dependability and reliability.

“I want to be able to park in the same spot every time I come to work. I want to have a boring, reliable, not noteworthy life. Cybersecurity issues stop me from doing that,” she said.

In the financial sector, Patton said, the end game is pretty clear. At Ohio State, however, the security concerns run across the board.

“What’s the crown jewels at Ohio State? Is it our patients? Is it our research data? Is it our plants, or our research labs? Is it our students? Is it our financial data?” Patton said. “What I have found over time is I can’t solve this issue myself. I can’t solve it as a practitioner. You can’t solve it as a researcher. You can’t solve it as a student. We need to come together to be able to do that.”

Patton also had a good-natured quip for her colleagues. 

“If any faculty member sends me another email about how often I make you change your password, we’ll have words,” she said.

Story by Ryan Horns, Communications Specialist | @OhioStateECE