How can the United States systematically attract, retain, and grow a world-class workforce that will protect the electric grid and other critical infrastructure systems from cyberattacks?
With 600,000 cybersecurity positions in the country unfilled and demands for these skilled professionals expected to continue to rise, the challenge is formidable.
One proven answer should be to put into hyper-mode education programs for such professionals at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). A September 30 summit brings together diverse experts from the energy industry, higher education, and other fields to drill down, expand, and accelerate these programs.
Cybersecurity jobs in the electricity industry pay well and offer secure employment. Many recent college graduates can start at a six-figure salary and extinguish college debt relatively soon. As America’s most critical infrastructure, the electric industry will need skilled professionals for quite some time.
Friday’s summit will address the overwhelming need for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) participation of HBCUs to provide a Certified RX5 Cybersecurity Workforce Training curriculum to Black and Brown students.
- Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery (Ret), who served as the Executive Director of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission (CSC). The CSC was created by Congress to “develop a consensus on a strategic approach to defending the United States in cyberspace against cyberattacks of significant consequences.” Its report was publicly issued on March 11, 2020.
- Dr. Aurelia Williams, Director of the Cybersecurity Complex, at Norfolk State University (NSU). She leads a consortium of 13 schools and two Department of Energy laboratories to increase the workforce pipeline in cybersecurity.
- David Hickton, founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy, and Security. A former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, he brought the first-of-its-kind indictment against five members of the Chinese military for economic espionage.
Electricity sector jobs are critically important because the grid is so important, and large. Without electricity nothing else works, i.e., water systems, hospitals, broadband, and more. If you can do cyber protection in the electric industry, you can basically do it anywhere.
There are a diverse and wide number of entry points from which bad actors can infiltrate and wreak havoc. America’s electric grid is 5.5 million miles long, and identifying the weakest links in the chain is inherently challenging. The grid is a mixture of large and small power plants, substations, transformers, and distribution lines running into America’s homes and businesses.
As such, protecting the electric grid from cyberattacks must be a top national priority, as it is central to national security. The grid is not simply facing attacks from malicious ransomware thieves or those bent on sowing general chaos, as bad and as serious as both those are. Nations hostile to the U.S., including Russia, China, and Iran have long set their sights on America’s electric grid. America’s national security leaders have been warning of this for years.
The good news is that public utilities and other power generators and companies in the electricity industry work collaboratively with others to stop attacks. This includes government agencies like the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Other allies for the U.S. electricity industry are world-class companies that prevent cyberattacks on defense installations and the U.S. power grid, including Raytheon Technologies, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Forescout.
Indeed, the opportunities in the cybersecurity field today are analogous to those in the aviation industry shortly after the airplane was invented. Like it or not, our enemies are going to increasingly sharpen their ability to attack our electric grid. For them, it is cheaper and easier to try and take down our vital grid, and frankly more feasible, than to try and bomb it.
The unveiling of new technology for the grid, including the rise in storage facilities, new forms of power generation, and even remote meter reading and adjustment, add to the need for astute cyber professionals, while providing economic benefits and conveniences.
The challenges are huge but so are the opportunities for those looking to become cyber professionals in the electricity field. The work is not only quite well paying, but also essential and honorable, as it keeps the power on and protects America’s way of life.
About the Author: Paul Steidler is a Senior Fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank based in Arlington, Virginia.
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