Working in the SOC — even at entry-level tasks — provides invaluable hands-on experience to the students, preparing them for a career in cybersecurity, where demand for skilled workers remains extremely high. The state is rewarded with access to a reliable pool of young employees to fill out its SOC staff and can tap Purdue’s resident brainpower.
It’s the sort of partnership that goes a long way toward fortifying cybersecurity, while granting important experience to the next generation of security professionals. Experts across the industry agree that it is a powerful tactic.
How Governments and Higher Ed Can Address the IT Skills Gap
The Center for Digital Government recently determined that state and local governments must overcome obstacles to carry out their cybersecurity strategies. In a CDG survey of state and local officials, 46 percent named a lack of a skilled cybersecurity workforce as their top challenge. Forty percent identified challenges with integrating security tools, and 36 percent said they were unable to rapidly respond to threats.
The National Governors Association is well aware of an IT skills gap among state governments. In 2021, the NGA stood up its latest cybersecurity policy academy, tapping Montana to host sessions on cybersecurity workforce development, which concluded in January.
“The opportunity to collaborate with other states to implement best practices and enhancements to advance our cybersecurity workforce will pay dividends by creating a job pipeline while assuring Montanans their data is protected,” Montana Director of Administration Misty Ann Giles said in a press release.
Meanwhile, college students are finding opportunities through on-campus cybersecurity training programs and being steered toward mentorship programs as a way to gain firsthand experience and prepare for entering the cybersecurity workforce. Those opportunities are helping to create a robust next generation of cybersecurity workers.
The Role of Collaboration in Government Cybersecurity
The National Association of State Chief Information Officers recommends greater collaboration between states and public institutions of higher learning to improve government cybersecurity.
In 2020, NASCIO reported that only 24 percent of state colleges and universities collaborate extensively with state governments on cybersecurity; 63 percent reported limited collaboration. Similarly, 27 percent of community colleges reported no collaboration.
In the 2020 report, NASCIO updated a call for states to team with higher education. “CISOs should consider leveraging public-private partnerships and collaborations with local colleges and universities to provide a pipeline of new talent,” NASCIO says in the report. State CISOs should turn to colleges and universities to build this pipeline through internships, co-ops and apprentice programs. They also should work together to improve digital services across states.
How Hands-On Experience Can Strengthen Cybersecurity
In April, the Texas Department of Information Resources said it would set up a regional SOC in partnership with Angelo State University. The SOC will provide real-time network security monitoring in an initiative to detect and respond to network incursions. The regional SOC, or RSOC, will be available to help local counties, municipalities, utilities and other public sector entities with cybersecurity operations.
As Government Technology reports, “While not specifically mentioned in the enacting statute, Senate Bill 475, a crucial element of the RSOC is engaging students to participate in providing RSOC services, giving them valuable hands-on experience while offsetting staffing costs.”
“The RSOC will also offer network security infrastructure that local governments can utilize and give university students hands-on experience to strengthen the cybersecurity workforce of tomorrow,” Angelo State said in a press release.
If successful, Texas will duplicate the RSOC structure across 11 additional districts. It’s a model for every state government to consider.
A version of this story first appeared as part of StateTech magazine’s CITizen blog series.