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Cybersecurity education: North Dakota preps future workforce

Cybersecurity education programs rank high on the typical CIO checklist, but Sean Riley’s effort stands out for its scope.

Riley, CIO for the state of North Dakota, is helping to shepherd a program that aims to educate the state’s entire student population — from kindergartners to doctoral candidates — on cybersecurity. The K-20W initiative, which stands for K through PhD plus workforce, brings together about 40 public and private sector organizations. Security education pilot programs will get underway in the 2018-2019 school year and the initiative’s teach-the-teacher component will get some 700 educators cyber-ready over a two-year span.

Riley, speaking August 28 at a National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) webinar, described the K-20W cybersecurity education program and its objectives in the context of 21st century workforce requirements. The CIO took the state job in April 2017, having previously held regional CIO and technology management roles at the Mayo Clinic.

North Dakota’s small population — ranked 48th with fewer than 800,000 people — doesn’t diminish the scale of the educational effort. The state’s K-12 enrollment is around 109,000, while the North Dakota University System’s student population is about 47,000. That’s quite a few learners to prep on cybersecurity.

Cybersecurity education prepares the future workforce

And from a strategic standpoint, North Dakota has a lot at stake in developing a cyber-aware 21st century workforce. The oil and gas industry, a pivotal sector for the state given the oil-producing Bakken Formation, is increasingly embedded with IT. Wireless sensors monitor wells, pipelines and other assets in growing industrial internet deployments. Riley cited a “huge demand for sensors” in the energy sector, noting the prospects for 1 billion sensors in the state.

“It sets the stage of why North Dakota’s needs to move into cybersecurity,” he said.

Agriculture, North Dakota’s top revenue-generating industry, is also automating, as a robotic dairy farm in Lisbon, N.D., attests. Noting such developments, Riley said, with some confidence, that any job a graduate of the state’s school system will hold in the future will have a technology component. And if there’s a technology component, there’s a need to understand the security implications.

Learning the essentials

But the goal of the K-20W initiative is not to unleash a cadre of cybersecurity analysts from the state’s schools. Instead, the objective, Riley said, is to create a workforce that understands the essentials of cyber hygiene, password security, phishing campaigns and other IT security issues. The idea is to instill the value of maintaining a strong security posture and knowing how to enable it.

Riley suggested it will take a couple of years to get a cybersecurity education curriculum in place and cultivate a critical mass of cyber-educated teachers. Getting there calls for coordination, a task Riley said Rosi Kloberdanz, director of the North Dakota Educational Technology Council pursues. Organizations involved in the cybersecurity effort include the state governor’s office, the department of public instruction, state workforce representatives, educators and private sector firms such as security vendor Palo Alto Networks.

“Cybersecurity is absolutely essential to our collective future,” Riley said. “We are attempting to rise to that challenge.”

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