American citizens, businesses and government agencies must deal with the daily threat of a cyber attack, but to Sen. Barbara Mikulski and the leaders of Harford Community College, that threat also creates opportunities for education and jobs.
"Where we are now is, where there is a threat, there is an opportunity, and I'm glad to be with you and to be part of helping create those opportunities," Mikulski said Thursday morning while speaking to HCC leaders, faculty members and students in an Information Assurance and Cybersecurity classroom.
Mikulski joined college officials to announce that HCC has been designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education because of its information technology and cybersecurity programs.
"We have a nationally-recognized program that's going to provide an avenue for our students, not only to get further education but to enter the workforce in very well-paying, highly-skilled jobs," Dennis Golladay, president of Harford Community College, said.
The designation comes from the federal Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency.
"One of the burgeoning careers is in the field of cybersecurity, and we are the epicenter of cybersecurity for the United States of America because of our great federal labs and our great military installations," Mikulski said of Maryland.
The senator said HCC is one of 16 higher education institutions in Maryland that has the National Center of Academic Excellence designation.
"It is the seal of approval and the seal of capability and the seal of competence, both for students and the institution itself," she said.
Mikulski said applicants must show they have "a robust curriculum, a well-trained faculty, the technology available and also pathways to jobs."
She said HCC is eligible for federal grants from institutions such as the National Science Foundation, Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, and students are eligible for federally-backed scholarships.
Mikulski also noted there about 8,000 job openings in the cybersecurity field.
"This public investment in both people and institutions is to make sure we're developing the cyber warriors that we need to be able to protect America," Mikulski said.
Mikulski, who announced earlier this year that she plans to retire after 28 years in office, noted that when she joined the Senate in 1987, the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States was ongoing, and the east and west sectors of Berlin and Germany, were divided by the Berlin Wall.
While the Cold War has ended and the Berlin Wall is long gone, she said, the threat of cyber attacks is "enduring."
"This is enduring, and as long as we have the world of cyber technology, we're going to have cyber threats," she said. "Unlike the Cold War where the wall came down, this will continue."
Mikulski said the Pentagon deals with 2 million computer "hacks" each week, and agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration are at risk from hackers trying to steal intellectual property.
"We are in a war for America's future," she said. "We are in a war for America's security, and I feel the cyber warriors who develop the cyber shields are going to come out of Harford County, working with our great private sector and, of course, Aberdeen Proving Ground."
Madrice Guy, a Cybersecurity and Information Assurance faculty member, pointed out how recent hacks of Home Depot and Target not only put the personal information of millions of customers at risk, but also that the personal information of 4 million current and former federal employees was compromised by hackers.
During the spring semester, Guy's students participated in the Mid-Atlantic Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.
His students had to protect a virtual mass transportation system from multiple hacks while also maintaining regular operations.
"We were basically trying to protect our system in a most secure and timely fashion," Guy said.
Student Orion Reynolds, 25, of Riverside, also spoke about the exercise, for which he was team captain.
Reynolds said the students had 15 minutes to get their system secured before the constant hacks started coming at them.
"With the CCDC [competition], it's how prepared can you be when you're not prepared?" he said.
Reynolds also thanked Mikulski for her support of community colleges in Congress.
"Without your appropriations for community colleges, we wouldn't be having this engagement," he said.
Another Cybersecurity student, Doug Stanley, who is working toward an associate's degree and has already obtained two technical certifications through HCC's continuing education program, also spoke.
"The education I've received from Harford Community College has made my life [go] completely in the direction I wanted to go in," Stanley said.
He is part of the security team at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health, which deals with multiple cyber attacks against patients' personal health information.
"On a daily basis, we're seeing all kinds of attempts to attack health care," Stanley said.
The college also has multiple partnerships with the local business community through its cybersecurity program.
Jeff Murter, of the Leidos firm that specializes in engineering, health care and national security services, touched on the partnerships, such as student internships with area employers.
"Engaging people at that age to learn what the work world's going to be like and what your job is going to be like is really critical," Murter said.