Cameron McCawley is excited about studying cybersecurity because of the challenge it provides.
“It’s really rewarding,” McCawley, a student at Oregon State University and president of the OSU Security Club, told OPB’s Think Out Loud Thursday. “It’s like solving a mini brain teaser or puzzle, so when you finally solve it, or you finally find that vulnerability and you’re able to exploit it, there’s that big dopamine rush.”
But the impacts of poor cybersecurity aren’t fun. The growing dominance of virtual commerce and communication has made cybersecurity a big priority for businesses, consumers and government agencies around the world. Local governments in Oregon have asked for more protection against cybersecurity attacks. Last year, the city of Portland reported it lost $1.4 million in a cybersecurity breach.
Adequate protection requires a workforce trained to fill those gaps in security. But according to Oregon State, there’s an unmet need for thousands of workers: roughly 7,500 cybersecurity job openings in Oregon alone and more than 750,000 openings nationwide.
The university is hoping more students like McCawley decide to pursue a career in cybersecurity after it received $4.8 million from the National Science Foundation late last year to boost training for cybersecurity experts.
OSU instructors hope the funding will help connect students to a workforce where employers are struggling to fill jobs that protect organizations in the public and private sectors from security threats.
“It is really a huge vulnerability not having enough people to protect environments,” Dave Nevin, assistant professor of practice at OSU, said. “The result of that though is a boon for our students. There’s high demand for these positions, and that results in high salaries.”
The nearly $5 million is part of the National Science Foundation’s “CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service” program. Students who get that scholarship agree to work after graduation, mostly for federal agencies, for the number of years they received the scholarship for.
Nevin said those job placements help fill vital roles in the federal government as well as local and tribal governments, at least for a few years. After fulfilling their required service, many scholarship recipients may choose to move into the private sector for higher wages, but Nevin said, many decide to continue working for the government.
“What they’re finding through this program is that a large number of students find value in public service and remain in public service,” he said.
Part of the grant money will also support a new OSU College of Engineering program called CyberClinic, in which students will provide cybersecurity work to organizations throughout the Pacific Northwest.
“The concept of the CyberClinic can be thought of as a teaching hospital for cybersecurity,” OSU associate professor Rakesh Bobba said. “So, this provides an environment for students where they’re actually defending real organizations against threats, and at the same time serving organizations that are typically underserved or are unable to afford security services or hire security experts into their organizations.”
The CyberClinic is already operating. The scholarship for the service program is slated to begin this fall, according to OSU, with recruitment for the program starting this spring.