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Cybersecurity: The Next Frontier

by | Feb 28, 2024

Cybersecurity is a constant and evolving threat. Because of that, the South Coast Cyber Center in Beaufort was created, and it is now becoming a world class hub for education, training, and innovation in this field. However, it didn’t come to be by accident. In 2019, Colonel Warren Parker, USMC Retired, with inspiration from his son who worked in cybersecurity in the Navy, brought the issue to a group of community leaders who looked at how to diversify the economy in the region with highly skilled, high-wage jobs.

“We looked at creating a cybersecurity ecosystem here, so launched the Cyber Center with a $1.3 million grant from the Department of Defense through the collaborative efforts of the University of South Carolina Beaufort (USCB), the Technical College of the Lowcountry (TCL), the Beaufort Digital Corridor, the Beaufort Economic Development Corporation, Beaufort County Schools, the private sector and local nonprofits.” said Parker. “We also had tremendous support from Congresswoman Nancy Mace, who was instrumental in assisting us with that first grant.”

A subsequent grant of $1 million was received from the National Science Foundation along with the original partners and new ones – the Citadel, Clemson University, the South Carolina Research Authority, and the nonprofit, SC Competes, to create an “innovation engine”. This grant centered on research surrounding maritime cybersecurity focused on the many components that make up our ports.

Colonel Parker emphasized the enormous need for everyone to be educated about the importance of cybersecurity and possible threats.

“We are all vulnerable,” says Parker, “Because the basic infrastructure of our world – water, sewer, our electrical grids are all connected to the internet. A hack can cause utter havoc on ports, airports, transportation, hospitals, schools, financial institutions, business – absolutely everything.”

The career opportunities in cybersecurity are immense with over 500,000 open positions just in the United States. The field is growing by 32% per year – faster than any other profession. A cybersecurity job is quite different than your typical IT position. It involves protecting computer systems, networks, and data from unauthorized access, breaches, attacks, and other security threats. The responsibilities may include developing security policies and procedures, implementing security measures such as firewalls and encryption, monitoring network traffic for potential threats, investigating security incidents, and responding to security breaches.  Currently, the local colleges offer classes in cybersecurity – TCL offers an associate degree in cybersecurity and USCB a four-year bachelor’s degree with starting salaries most likely over $60,000 a year.

“We are extremely poised to make some great things happen, but it takes time and the collaborative partners to make it happen. In the book ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins, the author talks about getting your flywheel moving and I think our flywheel here in Beaufort is moving in cybersecurity. We have concentrated on building a workforce which is the most important piece,” said Parker. “In 2024, both USCB and TCL are working to gain their National Security Agency, Department of Homeland Security Center of Academic Excellence status, which will be a huge incentive for employers.”

In March, the South Coast Cyber Center will be bringing together thought leaders from across government, industry, and academia to discuss cyber threats and defense strategies at the third annual South Coast Cyber Summit.  The event’s theme is “Empowering Protection in a Connected World” and will take place on March 18 and 19, 2024 at Tabby Place in downtown Beaufort. Congresswoman Nancy Mace will kick-off the summit. “As Chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee for Cybersecurity and Information Technology, Mace has been a huge supporter of our efforts here in Beaufort. She endorsed our first grant and the subsequent one from the National Science Foundation.” said Colonel Parker.

Other speakers include Brigadier General Will Wilburn, US Marine Corps Deputy Commander Marine Corps Cyberspace; Chris Cleary, the Principal Cyber Advisor to the Department of Navy; Megan Stifel, former Director of International Cybersecurity Policy for the National Security Council under President Barack Obama; and Max Bobys, VP of Hudson Cyber involved with maritime cybersecurity which deals with ports around the world with their insurance and liability issues. In addition. John O’Toole, BCEDC Executive Director, will conduct a panel discussion on the workforce issues related to the cybersecurity field.

Also, as part of the event, the Technical College of the Lowcountry will officially open its new Security Operations Center on Monday, March 19 at 6 pm on the TCL campus. Colonel Parker says he expects to have over 150 participants at the Summit from business, government and nonprofits interested in how to defend their organizations against cyber threats and attacks.  Students will also be attending from area high schools, TCL and USCB hoping to learn more about careers in cybersecurity.

In just a few short years, the South Coast Cyber Center has emerged as a collaborative engine of public and private partners working to build cyber talent and economic opportunity as it becomes the premier center of academic excellence and innovation in the Southeast. Thank you, Colonel Parker for your vision, dedication, and commitment to this critical program!