UNR Cybersecurity Center strives to boost region’s lagging workforce

The UNR Cybersecurity Center developed a sandbox lab on campus called the Full Spectrum Cybersecurity Zone, where students can participate in hands-on research testing and training.

The UNR Cybersecurity Center developed a sandbox lab on campus called the Full Spectrum Cybersecurity Zone, where students can participate in hands-on research testing and training.

RENO, Nev. — Right now, there are more than 285,000 cybersecurity jobs unfilled in the United States, according to CyberSeek, a project supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE).

In Nevada, more than 1,600 cybersecurity jobs are open. In neighboring California, there are 32,000 vacant positions, per CyberSeek.

The stats suggest the nation’s cybersecurity workforce is lagging behind the dramatic surge in cybercrime, which is predicted to cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, up from $3 trillion in 2015, according to cybersecurity statistics company Cybersecurity Ventures.

For more than four years, the University of Nevada, Reno’s Cybersecurity Center has been working to help close the glaring talent gap and support economic development in Northern Nevada, said Dr. Shamik Sengupta, executive director of the center.

“We see in the professional workforce, they always have the demand for these cybersecurity professionals — and that gap is really, really big right now,” Sengupta said. “There are so many of these (breaches) happening that it is becoming a very prime issue.”

In response to those breaches, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 37 percent uptick in information security or cybersecurity jobs from 2012 to 2022.

These are high-paying jobs, too. The annual mean wage for information security analysts was $92,600 nationwide in May 2016, according to BLS. In Nevada, the annual mean wage is $88,000, and in California, it’s $108,000, the BLS reports.

A ‘holistic’ perspective

At the UNR Cybersecurity Center, faculty and students are striving to combat cybersecurity crime through education, research and outreach to industry, said Sengupta.

The center, which launched in January 2014, is not only looking at cybersecurity from the computer science perspective. Other disciplines connected to the center include political science, criminal justice, journalism, mathematics, philosophy, psychology and military science, among others.

The center offers two programs: an 18-credit minor in cybersecurity to undergraduates as well as a four-course graduate certificate in cybersecurity available to anyone with a bachelor’s degree.

UNR’s graduate certificate in cybersecurity, the highest credential within the state, includes courses in computer science, information systems, political science and criminal justice.

“The idea is that the participants interested in taking this certificate will have a very comprehensive view of cybersecurity,” Sengupta said. “So if someone is coming from a computer science background, typically they will know the programming, but they might not know the political science side of it, or exactly how a the business operates under a risk of (cyber) threat.

“Essentially, they are learning about their own discipline and the cybersecurity issues associated with it — and at the same time, learning about views from other disciplines. So we give them a very holistic scenario.”


The reality is, according to ISACA International, only 38 percent of global organizations claim they are prepared to handle a sophisticated cyber attack.

The five most cyber-attacked industries in 2017 — health care, manufacturing, financial services, government, and transportation — are predicted to remain the same in 2018, according to Cybersecurity Ventures. Moreover, nearly half of all cyber attacks are committed against small businesses.

Compounding cyber risks, many organizations these days are more and more reliant on operating in “the cloud” — the software and services that run on the internet instead of locally on computers — to run their business.

According to Gartner, a leading research and advisory firm, companies’ cloud-based spending is forecast to reach $305.8 billion worldwide in 2018.

“These days, almost everything is in the cloud,” Sengupta said. “You are storing things using Google Drive or you’re using Amazon Web Services … that gives us the convenience of storing or accessing data from anywhere. That also gives us a problem.”

To better attack these ever-growing issues, the UNR Cybersecurity Center developed a “sandbox lab” on campus called the Full Spectrum Cybersecurity Zone (FSC Zone). There, as many as 20 students can participate in hands-on research testing and training by way of creating, attacking and defending servers and networks, for example.

“We are not saying we’ll fix everything; it’s not possible, we are human,” Sengupta said. “But how do you make it as secure as possible, as reliable and robust as possible? Those are the things we are trying to focus on.

“We want to see how we can help the community,” he continued. “How we can make sure that the awareness is there, the technology is there, and the skill-set is there?”


For two years, Sengupta and David Feil-Seifer, an assistant professor at UNR, have raised awareness through the UNR Cybersecurity Center’s Cyber Security Initiative for Nevada Teachers (CSINT).

The National Science Foundation-funded program, which runs for six weeks, gives area middle and high school teachers STEM research training in varying topics based on their intest and general knowledge that they can implement into their classrooms during the school year.

“Everyone is connected to the digital world — like Facebook, or emailing, or sending a picture — at the school level,” Sengupta said. “So why not be aware of the cybersecurity issues?

“It important to start the process as early as possible,” he continued. “That’s why it is not just at the undergraduate level. Through the (CSINT) program, we’re hoping that this is starting at the middle school level.”

Visit www.unr.edu/cybersecurity to learn more about the UNR Cybersecurity Center.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment