Education key to fixing cyber insecurity

Our world is at a crossroads. We live in an Internet of Everything where our devices, systems, and lives are connected on a massive scale. We can control assets, security systems, televisions and even refrigerators remotely, with one single touch on a smartphone. All personal, classified, industry and financial information is floating in cyberspace. Without an extensive call to action, our infrastructure is more vulnerable than ever.

The level and complexity of cyber attacks is evolving significantly. This leaves business and government agencies vulnerable and without a clear direction on how to strengthen security as we have a deficit of cyber security professionals. The most recent Global Information Workforce Study estimated that the workforce gap is growing quickly, with a projected shortage reaching 1.8 million professionals by 2022.

Gov. Larry Hogan signed the Computer Science Education and Professional Development Executive Order on Nov. 2, 2017. It declared computer science a priority in Maryland public schools. The order was further supported by legislation passed by the General Assembly of Maryland in April 2018 requiring all public high schools in the state to offer a computer science course by the 2021-2022 academic school year (House Bill 281 — Securing the Future: Computer Science Education for All).

In response to both the legislation and updated National Computer Science Standards from the Computer Science Teachers Association, there became a need for Maryland computer science standards. The Maryland State Department of Education convened a statewide design team comprised of computer science teachers, local school district central office personnel, members of local industry, representatives from higher education, and individuals from non-profit organizations. The Maryland K-12 Academic Standards for Computer Science place a considerable emphasis on cyber security concepts to meet the needs of Maryland’s workforce and economic development.

Maryland has distinguished itself as the cyber security capital of the United States. This state houses more than 12,000 information technology and cyber security companies, 17 higher education institutions that have been designated National Academic Centers of Excellence in Cyber Defense, more than 60 government agencies tasked with protecting our nation from cyber-crime, and the U.S. Cyber Command. With the National Security Agency and the National Cyber security Center for Excellence as additional resources, this is the time to focus on providing students with an awareness of the career opportunities in the cyber security industry. It is also necessary to educate students on the rapidly growing need for professionals in this industry and their important role in keeping our country safe. The most critical action entails an effort to build awareness of cyber careers and cyber security in the educational arena, starting in elementary and secondary schools.

These important steps will help Maryland to prevent potential cyber threats and attacks. A strong sense of urgency is required by policymakers, teachers and members of industry to educate our students on this topic. The same sense of urgency is needed to help develop an awareness of the economic and workforce development needs. Partnerships between public and private sectors, along with educational institutions of all levels, are the key to developing this awareness and educating our students.

Cyber threats and attacks threaten the security of our nation’s critical infrastructure. Decisions made today have short and long-term impacts on networks, systems and each other. The only way to address these issues is by starting with students in our elementary and secondary schools. We need to show the future of our society what to expect in the years to come and how to effectively protect systems from threats before they occur.

Karen B. Salmon is Maryland’s state superintendent of schools. She can be reached at karen.salmon@maryland.gov.

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