Visible to the public SoS Musings #20 - Time to Get Rural America up to Cyber SpeedConflict Detection Enabled

SoS Musings #20

Time to Get Rural America up to Cyber Speed

The domain that is cyberspace continues to be enhanced as a result of the constant development and advancement of artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, and more. However, many communities and institutions situated in rural states lack the educational means to reap the benefits provided by the continuously growing cyberspace domain. The deficiency in access to the benefits offered by digital economy contributes to socio-economic and political insecurity as well as weaker national security and the growth of wealth inequality. Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University system and former professor and deputy director in the Center for Cyber Security Studies at the U.S. Naval Academy, suggested the establishment of a Cyber Land-Grant University system to address these issues in an article entitled "Silicon Valley Must Help Rural America. Here's How." The Cyber Land-Grant University system is an initiative that would follow in the footsteps of the Land Grant College Act of 1862, also called the Morrill Act, which provided land grants to states in support of the development of universities specifically aimed at offering education surrounding agriculture and mechanical arts. Similarly, The Cyber Land-Grant University system would support the development of technical courses in relation to computer science and cybersecurity, along with courses related to business, humanities, and law, in rural states lagging behind in the realm of cyberspace.

An educational initiative such as the Cyber Land-Grant University system would effectively address the challenges associated with the digital divide more so than current educational efforts, which remain considerably inadequate. Education Dive highlights the lack of resources in rural K-12 schools in addition to the difficulty such schools face in trying to attract educators and retain teachers in the field of STEM, which leads to less interest in cybersecurity and other related topics. Universities in rural and post-industrial districts have less resources needed to keep research faculty on board and significantly contribute to the development of digital innovations as a result of lower federal funding and donations. Vocational teachers that would prepare people to work in the cyber field are also hard to find and retain in rural areas like South Dakota as result of lower salary and less access to highly-skilled workers that can occupy teaching positions. The Moneytree report from PwC and CB Insights further highlights the concentration of venture capital funding in the U.S., revealing California, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas to be the top states that have received such funding in first quarter of 2018. The report also reveals that these four states have the most venture capital deals going to cybersecurity companies, giving them a heads up in the digital economy over rural states and discouraging the establishment of cyber companies in rural states. The lack of cyber-related companies in rural states means low access to potential faculty experts that could help such states succeed in the digital economy. The unavailability of cybersecurity education programs in rural schools is further indicated by the absence of National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) CAE-CD (National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense) designations in schools located in states such as Alaska, North Dakota, Wyoming, and other rural states. The combination of shortcomings faced by communities and institutions in rural states in regard to lack of funding, companies, and education programs centered on digital and cyberspace advancements lead to concentrated expertise and wealth in areas that contain businesses and universities that are already flourishing in the cyberspace domain.

The Cyber Land-Grant University system suggested by Hagerott can help communities and institutions in the most remote rural states catch up with the innovatively bustling Silicon Valley and achieve success in the digital economy. The proposed system would support the hiring, retraining, and retainment of scholars that would serve as faculty members tasked with developing technical courses aimed at fostering skilled well-rounded experts and professionals in computer science and cybersecurity. In recognizing the importance of physical interaction and engagement with mentors and teachers, these courses would mostly be available on campus although some online instruction may be provided too. Research surrounding the development of digital innovations would also be conducted by the faculty experts. Hagerott suggests the financing of this new system through the institution of a cyber education tax on wealthy cybermedia giants such as Facebook and Google seeing as though such companies benefit greatly from the cyberspace and digital economy, racking up billions of dollars in revenue. Benefactors could also be motivated to support the system through the offering of tax incentives created by the U.S. government. Technology companies and top universities would also be offered incentives such as faculty rank and joint appointments by the system to contribute its resources and expertise by collaborating with the faculty group, develop programs, hold a teaching position, or participate in research at a cyber land-grant institution. U.S. governments, colleges, and Silicon Valley should consider collaborating to establish the Cyber Land-Grant University system to ensure that rural America flourishes in the digital economy as well.

While work should be done to achieve the establishment of a cyber land-grant system, other initiatives towards bolstering cybersecurity education and practices in rural states must continue to be developed as threats of high-profile cyberattacks that could impact the security and safety continues to be faced by the nation. The Center for Cybersecurity Research and Education at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (CCRE), which conducts research through a range of different projects aimed at strengthening the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure systems, automotive systems, and more, has designed the Expanding Cybersecurity Innovative Incubator to Extended Demographics (ExCIITED) program to get high school students in rural Alabama interested in working in the field of cybersecurity. NRECA's (National Rural Electric Cooperative Association) Rural Cooperative Cybersecurity Capabilities (RC3) Program was designed to help small- and mid-sized cooperative organizations in rural locations improve their cybersecurity by developing tools, resources, and training that such organizations can apply. More efforts must continue to be made to strengthen cyber education and practices in rural locations, and ultimately address the cybersecurity skills gap and develop defenses against cyberattacks on critical infrastructure.

The bolstering of cyber education for rural communities and institutions through these initiatives would not only decrease wealth inequality but would also boost national security.