CAES plays role in cybersecurity, nuclear safeguards certificates​

By Kaitlyn Hart, CAES communications intern 
Americans today are more reliant on the internet than ever. We shop online, bank online and even see doctors online. The physical infrastructure that enables our way of life relies on the internet, too – everything from the electric grid to water treatment plants to natural gas pipelines.
Although this may be a very convenient arrangement, especially in the midst of a pandemic, it also carries significant risk.
A University of Maryland study found that a cyberattack occurs every 39 seconds, affecting one in three Americans every year. Compounding the problem is a dearth of cybersecurity experts. According to a recent report from Cybersecurity Ventures, there will be 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity jobs by the year 2021. This workforce shortage adversely impacts all cybersecurity domains at a time when our adversaries are working around the clock, constantly probing for gaps and vulnerabilities in corporate enterprise systems, critical infrastructure systems, and vital national security systems.
The need for workforce development initiatives based on cybersecurity principles is apparent. Boise State University’s College of Engineering is on the verge of launching just such an initiative: a certificate in Cyber-Physical Systems Security-for-All, also known as Cyber 4 All.
Sin Ming Loo, Ph.D., director of Boise State University’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department who is leading the university’s Cyber-Physical Systems Security effort, believes he has identified a reason for the shortage of experts in the field. “From what I’ve learned, there is a little bit of disconnect between what the university is producing in terms of students versus what the industry is looking for,” Loo said.
To address the disconnect, he collaborated with researchers at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory (INL) and industry partners including Simplot, Idaho Air National Guard, Albertsons, and Idaho Power to develop the Cyber 4 All certificate at Boise State. Loo also received support from the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES), a research, education, and innovation consortium consisting of INL, Boise State University, Idaho State University, University of Idaho, and University of Wyoming.
A grant from the Idaho Workforce Development Council is expected to cover costs related to the startup and development of the program, which is designed to be accessible to any Idahoan interested in earning the 12-credit, Cyber 4 All certificate. To do so, a student must complete four classes: Cyber and physical security awareness for all, Internet of things: connected devices, Hands-on security: from home to office and everything in between, and Incident response and recovery.
The certificate is designed to introduce students to the world of cybersecurity, giving those who may not have had the opportunity a chance to become interested in something that affects their everyday lives.
“When we designed the certificate, a bunch of faculty and administrators across the campus basically asked us, “What about the rest of us? The rest of the people that aren’t in a technical major, what can you do for us?” Loo said.
That collaboration – with the Boise State faculty and administration, INL, and industry – was key, he said, and that’s where CAES came into the picture.
“You know, CAES is all about collaboration, so I think here, the biggest role that CAES played is supporting Sin Ming,” said David Estrada, Ph.D., associate professor at Boise State University who serves as CAES associate director for the university. “Through this collaboration and in supporting Sin Ming, we’re able to get him connected to Idaho National Lab, which is participating in the cybersecurity sphere.”
CAES is a participant in that sphere, too: Cybersecurity is one of seven focus areas in the CAES Strategy, and Loo serves as the Boise State lead in the cybersecurity focus area.
Connecting students, faculty, and lab researchers to accelerate the pace of discovery in cybersecurity research, CAES’ efforts in cyber also help train and educate the next generation of scientists, researchers and engineers.
“This effort represents the essence of CAES and our strategic education pillar: leveraging expertise and resources across the CAES members to provide impactful opportunities for students across the Intermountain West, a strong pipeline for the national laboratory, and an example for the nation of what strategic collaborations can achieve,” CAES Director Noël Bakhtian said.
CAES also has played an integral role in the development of another innovative certificate aimed at workforce development, the Nuclear Safeguards and Security (NS&S) joint certificate. Set to launch in fall 2021, the NS&S program is 12-credit educational certificate that enables students to take a course at each of the four CAES universities in addition to an optional capstone summer course at INL that will allow students to get hands-on work experience in nuclear safeguards and nonproliferation.
Beyond these benefits, the joint certificate will leverage a singular regional faculty and institutional expertise and a networking opportunity that contributes to a common high-quality curriculum. It will save costs with shared course development and delivery, and will increase enrollment by creating one-of-a-kind, field-specific educational offerings of national interest.
Similar to the origins of the cybersecurity certificate, the NS&S joint certificate effort began with the realization of an unmet national workforce need dependent on a niche educational offering. Because few institutions can provide this training with existing resources, CAES provided a solution through the use of the CAES model of working together, leveraging the resources at multiple institutions to provide value in a way that any one institution could not accomplish alone.
Nuclear energy is another of the CAES focus areas, and INL is known as the leader in nuclear research and development among the Department of Energy’s 17 national laboratories. Creating this certificate, which will allow students to learn directly from experts in the field and on state-of-the art equipment at INL, provides a remarkable opportunity for students and professionals from around the country, said Liam Boire, the CAES NS&S Certificate Project manager and systems engineer at INL.
“Not only will we be filling a dire workforce need for our nation, but all of the involved entities will continue to benefit from each other’s unique capabilities and expertise,” Boire said. “The opportunity that this joint certificate offers to the CAES universities, INL, and the prospective students is unprecedented in value.”
Through the collaboration between INL and CAES universities, each institution will be able to work off of the others’ strengths to provide the best possible experience for students looking to expand their knowledge and expertise.
“No single university has all of the expertise to cover all of the topics required for a well-rounded, yet technically deep, nuclear safeguards and security educational program,” Boire said. “Together, they’re able to offer their individually strongest course offerings to provide a unified program that’s more than just the sum of the parts.”
Working together is also the key to the cybersecurity certificate at Boise State. The partnership that Loo has developed with INL and industry is expected to continue and expand, allowing the program to evolve to remain compatible with the rapidly growing needs of Idaho business and industry.
The certificate is set to be available this fall. More information is available at https://www.boisestate.edu/coen-cps2/.​