If you ever waited for dial-up to connect you to the vast wonderland we called the World Wide Web, you probably also had an alarm clock on your nightstand, next to your land line, which might have had a cord connecting the handset to the receiver. If you were really progressive, you may have even used a cellular phone. The connection was better if the antenna was fully extended, and you paid by the minute.
Fast-forward a mere twenty years or so. We now text and email and take calls on our watches. Siri directs us if we’re in an unfamiliar city. Our phones can send photos of deposits right to our banks and pay for our groceries at the self-checkout. Or, maybe we don’t even go to the store. Alexa can order for us and have our items delivered in hours—likely soon, by drone.
While most of us were still re-winding the tapes in our VCRs, brilliant minds were coming up with today’s technological advances. At the same time, equally brilliant minds were coming up with ways to exploit the gaps in security and steal our information—even our identities—and paralyze the infrastructure and systems technology put into place.
Cyber risk is now firmly at the top of the international agenda as consumers, companies, and governments recognize the potential destructive impact of hack attacks and other security failures. Mitigating this risk and securing our systems is the focus of Arizona’s growing cybersecurity cluster – an interconnected network of Arizona companies, university programs, and government initiatives that are at the cutting edge of cybersecurity.
Taking the lead is Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, who called securing information systems a “top priority” when he issued an executive order to create the Arizona Cybersecurity Team (ACT) in March, putting together a diverse set of experts from government, the private sector and higher education. The ACT will provide advice and recommendations to the Governor’s office; enhance the cybersecurity workforce development; and, increase public awareness on cybersecurity best practices.
Bringing together government, academia and the private sector is vital to the state’s cybersecurity industry, says Arizona Senator John McCain, who praised the move by Governor Ducey.
“The effective coordination of our universities with industry and government gives us the opportunity to play a pivotal role in preparing the United States for the information warfare of the 21st century,” McCain says.
Talent is critical in this effort, and Arizona’s educational institutions are ahead of the game. Today, they are producing the workforce of tomorrow – at scale.
The University of Arizona (U of A) has one of the nation’s biggest cybersecurity programs. The AZSecure Cybersecurity Fellowship Program offers full scholarships for qualified U.S. students in exchange for public service. There are also programs where students can get certificates, all the way up to a master’s, in cybersecurity. U of A is home to the Wireless Network and Cyber Security Research Lab, and has been designated by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense. This program works to reduce the United States’ vulnerabilities in its information infrastructure.
Arizona State University’s (ASU) Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics (CDF) brings together faculty in engineering, social sciences, law and business to conduct research and create education, internship and training platforms. The CDF is a best practice in collaboration, with partners including the NSA, the National Science Foundation (NSF), Microsoft, Google, GoDaddy, Cisco, and Bank of America, among others. ASU’s School of Engineering also is home to the Information Assurance Center, a university-wide center based in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision System Engineering. The center offers the NSF’s CyberCorps Scholarship for Service to address the growing need for federal information assurance professionals.
Also in Tempe is the University of Advancing Technology, which offers a wide range of cybersecurity degrees, which are recognized by government entities and the industry for creating the workforce of the future.
The private sector also has plenty of skin in the game, especially when profit depends on secure technology, and many have chosen to set up shop in Arizona.
Kudelski Group, a Swiss company that provides hardware and software digital security, recently located its North American corporate headquarters in the state. Company officials cited Arizona’s quality workforce and pro-business environment as the key factors in the decision. The company plans to hire 350 people during the next three years. Kudelski joins nearly 70 other Arizona-based cybersecurity companies, including homegrown success stories such as Trusona, BeyondTrust, SiteLock, and Mosaic451. Dozens of household names have established cybersecurity operations across the state, ranging from American Express and PayPal to Northrop Grumman, USAA, and Cox Communications.
The City of Mesa is home to one of the nation’s most unique assets for cybersecurity companies: Arizona Laboratory for Security and Defense Research (AZLabs). After leasing the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory for several years, the city purchased the facility in 2014, renamed it, and retained its high security protocols. Today, the facility is certified at the highest level of cybersecurity and hosts companies conducting highly sensitive projects, experiments, and cybersecurity activities.
Arizona is a hub not only for private-industry cybersecurity, but national security as well. Fort Huachuca, an Army base located in southeast Arizona, serves as the headquarters of the Network Enterprise Technology Command (NETCOM) 9th Signal Command. NETCOM leads global operations for the Army’s portion of the Department of the Defense Information Network and protects the Army’s global network. Fort Huachuca also houses the U.S. Army Intelligence Center of Excellence, which teaches the skills required to support defense and intelligence efforts.
A number of coalitions also exist to help Arizona remain at the forefront of this rapidly growing cybersecurity ecosystem. Among them, the Arizona Cyber Warfare Range is a privately funded nonprofit entity with two locations in the Phoenix area. The program, in partnership with Grand Canyon University and Arizona Cyber Threat Response Alliance, works to help cybersecurity professionals hone their skills through self-paced training, mentoring and real-world experience.
Cyber Security Canyon is a coalition of local companies, working with the University of Advancing Technology, the cities of Phoenix and Scottsdale, and the Arizona Commerce Authority to create education initiatives and more awareness of the local industry.
The Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation and the Arizona Technology Council created AZCyberTalent.com, a one-stop resource for students, employees, employers, and educators involved in the Arizona cybersecurity community.
This powerful combination of talent, assets, and partnership among academia, private industry and government has positioned Arizona to not only be the most cyber-prepared state in the nation, but to lead in the global effort to prevent against cyber-attack.
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This content was updated on 4/26/18.