CYBER SERIES: Georgia Cyber Center’s role in leading cyber security innovation

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You hear the word cyber on the news every single night. I know this because I say it and I know that a lot of us wonder what it means beyond things that have to do with computers or things that are digitally related. Well that’s why we have launched this series on The Means Report to educate you and to educate ourselves on what cyber means and our friends from the Georgia Cyber Center are back with us today to talk about their role when it comes to all things cyber. Also, education and training that’s available and really just making sure that the CSRA continues to be cyber ready, that we continue to keep that workforce pipeline flowing, so that all those jobs you hear about are filled.

Brad Means: I can’t think of two better people to help bread down today’s episode than Todd Gay, Todd’s the Director of Outreach and Engagement down at the Georgia Cyber Center in that beautiful facility downtown. Eric Toler is the Executive Director of the whole deal and welcome gentlemen, how are things going at your fancy new home?

Eric Toler: Outstanding, I mean it’s incredible to see what’s goin’ on here in Augusta. For a collaboration that we have between the government, between our academic institutions, between the private industry that’s here.

Brad Means: Yeah, I wanna talk about kinda what goes on under that roof but it’s good to hear y’all are doing well. I mean we drive by and we see the twin buildings and they’re so nice. So, so far on our series we’ve talked about cyber security, we had Sarah and Nicole, your colleagues at the Georgia Cyber Center and I call them the cyber sisters but they are great about teaching us what’s going on by way of cyber security and how we can protect all of our devices. We’ve also talked to our friends from the GBI about their role when it comes to investigating and prosecuting the bad guys who commit cyber crimes. How’s the Georgia Cyber Center, Eric, fit into all of that and fit into the whole cyber thing that we have going on here locally?

Eric Toler: Yeah, so first of all, Brad, thanks for having us on.

Brad Means: Absolutely.

Eric Toler: And what you do to inform our public. We would typically start off with explaining the big picture and get down to the more practical but we kinda flipped the script and had Sarah and Nicole on first and so they got to get some practical stuff and then we’re finishing up with the big picture. So the reason why the Cyber Center is in Augusta and not in Atlanta per se is because of Fort Gordon primarily, so if you look at the amount of money that the federal government has put into Fort Gordon, the last ten years to the next ten years, is over two and a half billion dollars so this is kind of a payback to the federal government investment and so the state has invested over 100 million dollars in our campus. It really is about that partnership and leveraging the talent that’s at Fort Gordon but it’s even bigger than that. It’s about Savannah River National Lab, the Savannah River site across the river. It’s about our GBI partnership that you had Steve Foster on last time. And it’s about our private industry and then those that are already here in the Augusta area and also those that are coming following army cyber and, of course, you’ve got Augusta Technical College and August University who already had a great foundation of education here. So that’s really the background of why it’s here and what we’re tryin’ to build with this unique ecosystem of government, academia, and private industry.

Brad Means: All right, makes sense and helps us get kinda the big picture as you mentioned. Thanks for that, Eric. He mentioned, Todd, a ton of money. 100 million dollars here, couple of billion there, I sorta see the Georgia Cyber Center and the efforts that are underway there as a way to boost not only the economy of Augusta, Georgia but don’t you think it can go into the region and into the entire state?

Todd Gay: Absolutely, Brad. We are seein’ people and companies that are following Army Cyber Command here that’s coming in 2020 so we have the companies that are coming here, we have new companies that are startups that are actually going to start up to help support this cyber demand that’s takin’ place here. So Georgia’s voted the number one state to do business in six years in a row. So it’s a great place to do business but we also had former governor Nathan Deal tell us that he wants this to not only be the number one state to do business but the number one state to do secure business.

Brad Means: And he was such a friend.

Todd Gay: Absolutely, yes, absolutely. So the Georgia Cyber Center here is to support these companies that are comin’ in. We support that by way of providing space. We help provide opportunities for shared resources that they can use for training. We have education as well. So we are here to support the efforts for these different companies that are coming in that will be following Army Cyber Command but also Fort Gordon.

Brad Means: How’s that work? Do they have to pay you? Like if a company comes and says, look man, I can sell software to the people who build widgets, hook me up and tell me where to locate and who to meet with and so you do, and then do they owe you for that or is that just sort of a function of the state of Georgia that y’all do to make this a better place?

– It’s a function of the state of Georgia to help make it a better place. So we can provide that service and they don’t even have to be in our area.

Brad Means: Got it.

Todd Gay: But we can also provide space to where they can come into the building and lease the building and be a part of that internal ecosystem at the Georgia Cyber Center.

Brad Means: Eric, your description of the Georgia Cyber Center makes it a lot more clear what you do down there. What about your mission? I mean it’s pretty clearly spelled out as well when it comes to what you’re tryin’ to accomplish day to day down there.

Eric Toler: Yeah, Brad, let me start with vision actually because it’s important to understand that for the Department of Defense ten years ago we recognized that cyberspace operations was a revolution in military affairs. What that is, that’s the capability that fundamentally changes the nature of warfare so you can equate that to nuclear weapons or the airplane between World War I and World War II.

Brad Means: Yeah, look at just a few days ago. President Trump said, look, we’re not gonna do a military attack against Iran but we’re gonna mess with their cyber systems and we did.

Eric Toler: Exactly.

Brad Means: It’s how things are going.

Eric Toler: Right, so leap forward ten years, we haven’t really fundamentally changed, though, the way we recruit, train, and retain talent or the way we operate, although we are starting. We’ve made some evolutionary changes to a revolutionary problem. So our vision is to actually lead a revolution in cyber security through unprecedented innovation and collaboration so, again, building this ecosystem. And to do that with our mission, it is to first cultivate this ecosystem that together, not just me and my staff of 20 but all these entities of academia and government and private industry, can do four specific things. One is to provide both relevant and affordable training and education. Number two is to develop the workforce and that’s from secondary school through college through the workforce that needs additional training.

Brad Means: Secondary school, middle school or high school and up?

Eric Toler: Well, inspiration in elementary and middle and then really the education starts in late middle through high school. Number three is to solve complex cyber security challenges so that’s kind of our innovation side of the mission. And then number four is to provide unbiased advice to policy makers and decision makers. And so that would be either legislature or any type of large policy decision that needs to be made. Again, it’s not my opinion or Todd’s, it’s hey, here’s what our private industry partners are thinking, here’s what our academic and other government partners are thinking, and really the purpose of all that is just to win and I mean that in a strategic sense.

Brad Means: Sure.

Eric Toler: And we’re talkin’ about nation state actors like Russia and China.

Brad Means: So Todd, you have this ecosystem, it’s a three-pronged approach: government, industry, and schools. How do you foster those relationships with those three entities and make sure you’re connected to those people, make sure those conversations are ongoing and everybody’s happy?

Todd Gay: Sure, well that’s something that we built the Georgia Cyber Center to help foster that collaboration. So the most exciting part about this, Brad, is we’re the first ones to do this in the country, to put all three entities together. So we did this in a way to where we can have the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Cyber Crimes Center, that you spoke with last time with Steve Foster.

Brad Means: Love Steve.

Todd Gay: Yeah, so he has a digital forensic investigator that works for him that is also a teacher at Augusta Technical College two days a week. That’s collaboration, Brad. That is how we are using the Georgia Cyber Center to house the Georgia Bureau of Investigation but also have a digital forensic investigator that is teaching two days a week during the day Augusta Technical College students. So that way we have the students that are getting information from the teacher that has real-life experiences with cyber crime. So we have that type of collaboration that takes place every day within the building but we also have BAE, British Aerospace Systems, that just signed a lease with us and they are offering internship opportunities already to the students. So we have Parsons, who is also in the building, and they offer what is called CTFs, Capture the Flags, so you have attack and defend where you have one table tryin’ to attack another table with maybe a Ransomware attack but you also have Jeopardy-style where you have the categories goin’ across the top and you have different point systems and you’re trying to solve different problems and to get points. So they host these CTFs once a quarter where academia, students, can come play the game, they can train, but you also have government, military, but also private industry that can take advantage of this. And the last thing is our non-resident partners. The ones that I just mentioned are actually physically in our building but we also work with people that have no need to be in the building but they still have a need for our services. So with being Augusta University Medical Center that is a part of Augusta University we have a partnership with Phillips Healthcare. They provide all the healthcare equipment for the Augusta University Medical Center.

Brad Means: Yeah, I’ve seen that.

Todd Gay: And one great thing that we can do is in our research lab we can break down the equipment that’s monitoring the patients and try to find vulnerabilities and if we find those we can send those back to Phillips and they can make adjustments so we’re tryin’ to make everything safer there.

Brad Means: So is this the affordable and relevant education and training that you mentioned, Eric? What Todd’s talking about where you have these hands-on opportunities under your roof and also how do ya make that affordable and relevant education and training expand out into our community so that somebody who wants to get into cyber can?

Eric Toler: Yeah, so that’s definitely part of it and it really starts with the belief that our foundational education in this career field is with your technical college or community colleges and the universities and it’s getting them to tailor their content so that they meet the requirements now of both the public and the private sector.

Brad Means: Are you saying use this textbook, use this curriculum and then they say okay we will?

Eric Toler: Well, it’s taking their operational requirement and developing the curriculum that then meets that requirement which is hard to do, right? It’s hard to keep pace with that. But that exactly what Augusta Tech and Augusta University are doing with their School of Computer and Cyber Sciences. And then it’s building a career roadmap that clearly shows as you progress through this career field from entry-level to advance level whether the both educational training and experience levels you need to progress up that and you can see where the on ramps and off ramps are from that career field. For example, military training, so they do a lot of the same things that you would see in the private sector. Well, if you have that training, you can articulate that into a degree program within Augusta University. For example, the Army’s new cyber operations career field, if you go to their seven-month course, Augusta University will articulate 29 credit hours into one of their degree programs. So that’s an entire year of college that you would get just by enrolling based on your previous training. So we don’t wanna duplicate or have students try to re-educate what they’ve already learned so you get credit for it. And then finally, we can fill the gap so you saw Sarah and Nicole so our Cyber Workforce Academy, they can do things very quickly, develop curriculum, and give outstanding instruction, again, at a much reduced cost, because our building’s paid for, they’re paid for through a state appropriation, so it’s really just the wholesale content or the development cost that goes in, whether we’re teachin’ state agencies or municipal governments on their IT staff on how to be more secure.

Brad Means: Yeah, and what an old school word for me to use, textbook. There probably isn’t a textbook. Things change too quickly.

Eric Toler: Well there’s some foundational ones but a lot of it is new and has to continually change.

Brad Means: All right, so how can you jump in on this cyber bandwagon, get a paycheck, get your child ready to get one? We’re gonna talk about jobs and opportunities for businesses, the people who create those jobs in the cyber field as our special series continues on The Means Report.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report. Our special series on all things cyber continues with Eric Toler and Todd Gay from the Georgia Cyber Center and I promised you we’d talk about the jobs that are out there. A lot of people do wanna jump into this field, Todd. How do you make sure that that pipeline is full of work-ready candidates so that the companies that have all these jobs will take ’em.

Todd Gay: That’s right, it’s a big problem right now, Brad. Worldwide there’s three and a hall million cyber security jobs that are available today that are unfilled.

Brad Means: My word.

Todd Gay: Within just the country we have 300,000. Right here in the state of Georgia we have 11,000 jobs unfilled that could be filled right now. So we are having to, this is not something that you can just, it doesn’t happen overnight. So we have to start early with those secondary schools that Eric was talkin’ about. Starting with elementary, with these kids that are inspired to get into this field. We have to get them excited. Goin’ to middle school and high school with Sarah and Nicole with the Cyber Workforce Academy, bringin’ them in for field trips, having a escape room to where we’re taking them through the building, getting them excited about the workforce. So we have to get them excited. We have to work on the middle school and high school, the curriculum. We have to work on the cyber security curriculum to make sure that it’s where it needs to be. But we also have to work with trainin’ these teachers and making sure that there’s a mentorship network that they can have surrounding them so that they are able to understand what cyber security is and the importance of it. And then it goes as far as the career counselor. How can the career counselor help guide these students and what paths they can take as they’re looking to enter the job field.

Brad Means: All right, so that’s how we have employees go from little children to workforce ready adults. How do we make it business friendly, Eric, so that innovation is appreciated and that culture is strong for people who want to start their own companies here? Or bring their companies here?

Eric Toler: Yeah, so one of our core lines of effort is innovation and it’s really creating a foundation of innovation, a framework, that you can leverage the talent from both the government side, the academic side, where people can bring their technical problems and use that talent to them solve those problems within the framework. So if GBI were to bring in a technical problem, or the federal government, you could get the university professors, you could get the students, you could get service members from Fort Gordon, to actually solve that technical problem. Now whoever the sponsor is can then define the rules within that. How do you deal with the intellectual properties, security classification if that’s a problem. And then industry, I think, will also want to be a part of that because they’re the ones that then have to produce that capability after you develop a prototype or deliver a service if it’s service-oriented. So it’s kinda like a fuel for private industry to then take an idea, a concept, that’s already been developed and then take it to the end state of production and then provide that out to other government entities or other industry partners.

Brad Means: Do you have people from other states, maybe even people from the federal level, coming here already and saying, please, help us get this right? ‘Cause Augusta, and Georgia, do kind of seem to be setting the standard for cyber excellence. Do you have outsiders comin’ in and saying teach us?

Eric Toler: Yeah, Brad, that’s been the encouraging part and that’s really one of our goals is to be that example. We don’t wanna be first in anything but we wanna lead. And so we’ve had 18 different states, 19 different countries, that have come to see what we’re doin’, how did we do that, and then wanting to partner and collaborate so that’s been very encouraging.

Brad Means: Todd, you talk about collaboration, both of you have, and the importance of it and the collaboration that thrives under that roof. Are you y’all in the Hull McKnight or the Shaffer-MacCartney?

Todd Gay: We are in the Hull McKnight.

Brad Means: Oh my God, okay, the first one.

Todd Gay: Yes.

Brad Means: So, I don’t wanna oversimplify it but do you have people walking across the hall and collaborating? Do you have people collaborating on the elevator? Students and industry all there learning from one another? Is that how it happens or are there official sessions where y’all collaborate?

Todd Gay: Well, there’s a little bit of both.

Brad Means: Yeah

Todd Gay: We have to do that, right? So when I want a cuppa coffee when I go into the Center I can obviously choose Buona Cafe.

Brad Means: Right there, yeah.

Todd Gay: Or I will have to go to a social hub because we can’t have coffee makers, we cannot have printers, we cannot have refrigerators or microwaves in our office. So we are forced to go to the social hub which the forced collaboration turns into a great thing because when I go get my coffee or I go to make my print for copy I run into different people that are on the floor. So I can always run into a GBI agent or a student. They are there in the social hubs eating together and they are talking about different internship opportunities. So this type of collaboration really helps and we have the Cloud and the hotspot, the rooftops, to where we encourage collaboration as well. But we also have shared resources like the Maker’s Space that’s interesting to these different types of people that are in the building. Because, Brad, we work in a place where you see lots of different types of people.

Brad Means: I’ll bet, yeah.

Todd Gay: But if you have different places that they like to go, when they get to know the people the relationships just take place right there.

Brad Means: Last question for both of you. It’s still the early going. It’s still the new frontier for Augusta and the cyber district. How do you measure success? How do you know you’re getting it right?

Eric Toler: That’s a great question. So we’re defining our metrics right now so that could be anywhere from a number of students that we train, it could be from the amount of money that we save through training, it could be the number of high school and middle schoolers that come through the building, the number of internships, the number of college students that get jobs or jobs created in the area. So we’re keeping track of all those. What we really wanna do and really the goal is just to help better protect citizens. It’s kinda hard to prove a negative or determine the causal relationship so that’s a little bit harder to measure but when I look at long-term success I look at our campus. And I think ten years from now if we’ve got three more buildings built that are full then we will have been extremely successful because beyond the initial investment no one’s gonna invest in somethin’ that’s been a failure so if we’re continuin’ to get partners, we’re continuin’ to build buildings then we will have been very successful.

Brad Means: Todd, a lot of those metrics he mentioned are your metrics that you enacted.

Todd Gay: Absolutely, yes, that’s correct.

Brad Means: Things are goin’ well though, right?

Todd Gay: Yeah, things are goin’ really well. I’m a third generation Augusta, Georgia boy. Growed up here and, Brad, we haven’t seen anything like this in the Augusta area. We have to embrace this. We have to make sure that, like Dr. Keal says, the cyber tsunami. We have to make sure that we leverage that and we take advantage of what’s coming to Augusta so that we can really make an impact. And the culture that we’re building at the Georgia Cyber Center with inclusion, respect, and collaboration, that has to go outside of our walls so that everybody works together to make Augusta the best place to work in the world.

Brad Means: I’ll tell ya when I had my son, a 17-year-old boy, at a golf tournament in Myrtle Beach three days ago, man comes up to me and he says, hey, where ya from? I said Augusta, Georgia. He said Augusta, Georgia? Tell me about Augusta University and cyber. First thing he said. So the word is out and we are on the map.

Todd Gay: That’s good. And I appreciate the work that you and your team do.

Brad Means: Todd and Eric, thank y’all.

Todd Gay: Thanks, Brad.

Eric Toler: Thank you.

Brad Means: Absolutely, the Georgia Cyber Center what a wonderful place, what a wonderful resource. If you see anybody who works there, or who studies there, give ’em a hug. Tell ’em we’re glad they’re here making sure that we continue to set that standard and you can email us any cyber questions if we didn’t answer them in this five-part series. Check out all the installments online at wjbf.com; you’ll be glad you did. You’ll be a lot more informed.

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Brad Means

The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.