Enough with the Aggie jokes—Texas A&M’s new initiative to combat cyber threats is nothing to laugh about

By Richard Arneson

Some things just don’t make sense, like why when a baseball hits the foul pole it’s a fair ball. Shouldn’t it be called the fair pole? Or why hot dogs come in packs of ten (10) but the buns in quantities of eight (8). Oh, and how about this one—its estimated that within the next three (3) years almost 4 million (4,000,000) cybersecurity jobs will go unfilled due to both a lack of interest and adequate training. It doesn’t seem possible given the amount of cybersecurity events that we hear about every week, what with the ransomware, the Trojans, the viruses, the malware, etc. You’d think cybersecurity would be attracting professionals in droves, but it isn’t. Texas A&M University is doing something about it, though.

While many of the larger corporations have enacted specialized apprenticeship programs in cybersecurity, including mobile training trucks for personnel, the Fightin’ Texas Aggies have taken a far more proactive approach to this issue, and it’s one from which they’re immediately benefiting. To address their cybersecurity labor shortage, they’re pairing students with AI software to protect the schools’ systems from cyber-attacks. In turn, the students get training and a great, hands-on addition to the resume.

Each month, the Texas A&M University System, which includes eleven (11) universities and seven (7) state agencies, estimates that there are approximately a million attempts to hack into their systems. Prior to implementing this program, IT security was handled by a lean staff that included few full-time employees. Now ten (10) students comprise the majority of their IT security team, and they’re utilizing AI software to detect, monitor and remedy threats. And they’re having no trouble filling these positions. Word has spread throughout campus that this high-visibility program provides insightful skill sets and extremely marketable training.

Nothing beats on-the-job experience

The students’ first order of business each day is to study a whiteboard that outlines areas within the university system that have, or are currently facing, a threat. The threats are compiled through AI, which also prioritizes each. Then it’s up to the students to analyze any abnormalities and determine if it appears suspicious by comparing them to prior attacks.

AI software is key to this initiative, serving as a great springboard for inexperienced cybersecurity students by allowing them to evaluate threats immediately. While AI isn’t acting on the threats—which some consider a risky proposition in the first place–it’s left up to the students to remediate the issues.

So why the lack of professionals in cybersecurity?

Almost fifty percent (50%) of security executives recently surveyed by ISSA (Information Systems Security Association) said that this glaring lack of security professionals is due to two (2) things—high turnover and the high rate of job burnout. And while Texas A&M’s SOC (Security Operations Center) isn’t immune to either, they’re attempting to address these issues by throwing numbers at the issue in the form of many students who are looking for an opportunity to work there. And due to these numbers, students are able to spend time training or working on side projects that can be great additions to their resume. Gig ’em.

Got question? Call on the Security experts

To find out more about cybersecurity and the threats that may soon target your organization, contact GDT’s tenured and talented security analysts at SOC@GDT.com. From their Security- and Network Operations Centers, they manage, monitor and protect the networks of some of the most notable enterprises, service providers, healthcare organizations and government agencies in the world. They’d love to hear from you.

 

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