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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

President Kimberlee Messina: SFCC is committed to helping our community meet cyber workforce needs

By President </p><p>Kimberlee Messina Community Colleges of Spokane

Cyberspace. Cyberpunk. Cyberstalking. Cyberbullying. These days, you can stick an internet-laden prefix on just about anything. And odds are – good or bad – it’ll have its time and place in 2020.

But what about cybersecurity? At once a buzzword with a lineage as old as the internet itself, cybersecurity – like its world wide web counterpart – is now an integral, significant part of our lives whether we recognize it or not.

At Spokane Falls Community College, we recognize it, and we have for more than 15 years. When the internet was still in infancy, we taught classes in cybersecurity and information technology.

Today, we’re one of dozens of community colleges in the United States to offer a Bachelor of Applied Science in the fast-growing, ever-expanding and important field. That’s in addition to multiple associate degrees in applied sciences and transfer degrees in cybersecurity and information technology.

Our effort hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last October, our small college overlooking the Spokane River was recognized by the National Security Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which designated SFCC a National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.

The title officially recognizes SFCC’s cyber defense programs as meeting and exceeding program criteria aimed at “serving the nation in contributing to the protection of the National Information Infrastructure,” a superhighway that’s constantly under threat of man-made disaster.

For us, that means training and educating a fleet of graduates who can find employment in companies of all sizes, in an industry constantly asking for trained, qualified and certified cybersecurity workers. It means putting graduates into high-paying jobs in Spokane and the surrounding areas.

It also means preparing our information infrastructure from disaster. Because we are in uncertain times, indeed. But it’s not all due to COVID-19 and the havoc it’s wreaked on our day-to-day in the physical world. In the virtual world, we’re thriving.

In an unprecedented era of working and learning from home, mail-in elections and the widespread prominence of fake news that creeps behind it, and virtual doctor visits – at no point in human history has cybersecurity been more important than today, here and now.

Just last year, in fact, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman told local reporters there were “tens of thousands of attempts” daily to hack Washington’s election system.

“Some (hackers) are just trying to see what they can see, ‘what can we get to and what can we play with,’” Wyman told MyNorthwest.com. “And some have bigger chess moves. They are trying to undermine confidence that voters have in our system.”

This problem isn’t unique to our state. In September, the Guardian reported that the same Russian military intelligence outfit that hacked the Democrats in 2016 has attempted similar intrusions into computer systems in the 2020 elections. Most of the attempts, according to a blog post written by Tom Burt, a Microsoft vice president, were “detected and stopped by security tools built into our products.”

I’m willing to bet those security tools, in addition to the IT infrastructure necessary to detect those attempted hacks, were built by cybersecurity experts. The same experts who walk out of SFCC with a certificate or degree in hand.

But it’s not all about degrees. While teaching the individual is our primary goal, we also coordinate with Community Colleges of Spokane’s Corporate and Continuing Education division to bring cutting-edge cybersecurity trainings and knowledge to the forefront of Spokane’s largest employers.

In fact, Avista Utilities and the city of Spokane sent workers to the inaugural pilot class.

We can’t and shouldn’t stop there. In the health care industry – one of Spokane’s largest employers – cybersecurity continues to be a “major concern,” according to a recent story in Forbes, especially as doctors and administrators grapple with a new, remote reality.

“This is an important aspect to consider as more health care players are increasingly integrating technology into their daily healthcare offerings,” the story reads. “Late last month, Universal Health Services, one of the largest providers of health care, announced that it ‘experienced an information technology security incident” causing the company to suspend “user access to its information technology applications related to operations located in the United States.’”

This level of cyberattack on medical records could happen to anyone, anywhere – including Spokane. I want to see us ready.

Which is why in addition to accreditation and corporate training, at SFCC we’re committed to the Cyber Center, a regional resource to meet community cyber workforce needs. This includes formal education, professional development, a physical location to host events (such as Spokane Mayors Cup, Secure Spokane, or professional organization meetings), and being a point of contact for small and medium businesses to find answers and resources.

The buzzword has grown up, Spokane. Protecting information as well as vigilance against disinformation in cyberspace is reality, however stark.

Let’s help you prepare.

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