UNCG Receiving $1 million from Google to Launch Cybersecurity Clinic

Posted on June 04, 2024

A row of students sit typing in a computer lab for a UNCG computer science class.

UNC Greensboro’s Joseph M. Bryan School for Business and Economics is the first university in the state of North Carolina to receive $1 million in grant funding and wraparound support from Google’s Cybersecurity Clinics Fund. The grant will establish the Spartan CyberGuardian Academy (SCGA), a cybersecurity clinic at UNCG, training 870 students to assist 174 organizations over the next six years. The funding from Google.org, the company’s philanthropic arm, is part of a $25 million collaboration with the Consortium of Cybersecurity Clinics.

“Through the establishment of the Spartan CyberGuardian Academy, our students will emerge with real-world experience and the knowledge and skills essential to meeting workforce demand in this fast-paced industry, to the immediate benefit of their clients,” said UNCG Chancellor Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr. “An example of community-engaged, inclusive excellence, the clinic will soon serve and protect under-resourced organizations in the Piedmont Triad from cyber threats.”

Cybersecurity clinics at higher education institutions provide free digital security services to under-resourced organizations, like how law or medical schools offer free community clinics. The new Spartan CyberGuardian Academy will give Bryan School students the opportunity to learn cybersecurity and AI skills in an effective, hands-on manner while simultaneously helping to protect vulnerable organizations and critical infrastructure, such as local small businesses, hospitals, schools, and energy grids, from cyber-attacks.

Meeting Workforce Demand

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2024 Global Risks Report, cyber insecurity remains one of the top 10 global risks over the next 10 years. Currently, there are nearly 450,000 open cybersecurity jobs available in the U.S, including 13,251 in North Carolina (see a map here) and demand for cyber professionals is projected to grow 32% by 2033. To ensure that communities, critical infrastructure and businesses big and small across the U.S. are secure, we need a skilled, diverse and AI savvy cybersecurity workforce.

“The Spartan CyberGuardian Academy represents a significant step forward in our commitment to fostering exceptional problem solvers and principled leaders,” said Bryan School Dean McRae C. Banks. “This initiative not only enhances our students’ practical skills and prepares them for the demands of the cybersecurity field, but it also underscores our dedication to serving the community by protecting local organizations and critical infrastructure. We are deeply grateful to Google for their generous support and for recognizing the potential impact of our students on both a local and national level.”

The SCGA at UNCG will train a vast array of individuals, spanning from high school, community college, and university students to graduate-level scholars and organizations, arming them with practical cybersecurity knowledge and skills critical to the success of organizational cybersecurity practices.

“With the increasing complexity of cybersecurity incidents, hands-on training for students and preparing them for real-world experiences has become essential. However, such training and facilities are often inaccessible to many, including students from underserved communities and non-profit organizations,” said Dr. Moez Farokhniahamedani, assistant professor and PI on the grant. “Thanks to the generous $1 million grant from Google, we can bridge this gap by establishing the Spartan CyberGuardian Academy and offer free training sessions to students and employees of organizations that lack access to these resources. The cumulative knowledge and experience gained by these individuals will not only positively impact their career paths but also enhance the overall quality of cybersecurity in our region.”

The UNCG clinic will also offer essential cybersecurity services including auditing, training, and remediation to non-profit organizations, small businesses, and all entities within the Piedmont Triad region that lack resources or dedicated cybersecurity teams. Committed to bridging the gap, the SCGA is dedicated to providing education, training, and services to underserved audiences, ensuring equitable access to cybersecurity expertise. “The Clinic will train students to use advanced Cybersecurity technology and Artificial Intelligence and NIST Zero Trust Framework to help local businesses and government institutions to assess and enhance their Cybersecurity posture,” said Dr. Al Salam, professor and Co-PI on the grant.

In addition, the SCGA will leverage the existing programs in cybersecurity analytics at UNCG to develop new cybersecurity knowledge, artifacts, and practices.

Prepared For Technological Headwinds

Opening in spring 2025, the clinic will support non-profit organizations in the Piedmont Triad. Dr. Lakshmi Iyer, chair of the Department of Information Systems and Supply Chain Management and grant co-PI said, “I am truly excited about the opportunities to engage and collaborate with our community, small and medium size organizations, and non-profits in cybersecurity that are essential to building a resilient digital ecosystem. By leveraging the expertise and resources the clinic can offer, we can enhance awareness, share critical knowledge, and develop robust defenses against cyber threats, ensuring that all members of our community are protected and informed.”

“The world is in a moment where emerging technologies, like AI, are creating both new opportunities and threats in the world of cybersecurity,” said Heather Adkins, VP of Security Engineering at Google. “It’s essential that we invest in growing a strong, diverse and widespread cybersecurity workforce to help protect everyone – from critical infrastructure to small businesses and schools. The 15 clinics that we’re helping to establish serve a wide variety of students across all corners of the U.S. and we’re excited to see the impact they’ll have in their local communities.”

“Google’s transformative investment is catalyzing cybersecurity for the public good,” says Ann Cleaveland, co-founder and co-chair of the Consortium of Cybersecurity Clinics and Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity. “We congratulate the recipients and applaud these awards, which propel forward the vision of the Consortium to establish a cybersecurity clinic in every U.S. state by 2030.”

UNCG is one of 15 new clinics set to launch in 2024 at higher education institutions across the country, thanks to a collaboration from Google and the Consortium of Cybersecurity Clinics. In addition to $1 million in Google.org funding, the tech company is offering UNCG volunteer mentorship from Google employees, Google Titan Security Keys, and scholarships for the Google Career Certificate in CybersecurityLearn more on Google’s blog and the Consortium’s website.

The announcement builds on Google’s 2023 support for 10 clinics, part of a combined commitment to launch 25 Google-supported cyber clinics nationwide by 2025. With the latest round of funding, Google.org has now committed more than $25 million toward creating the diverse and AI- and digital-security savvy workforce needed to protect critical U.S. infrastructure from cyber-attacks.

Story by University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Communications

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