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Building Cyber Resilience in the U.S.: The Role of University Cybersecurity Clinics

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In today’s digital age, small and local organisations face a unique challenge in cybersecurity. They are increasingly becoming targets of criminal groups seeking to launch ransomware attacks, yet they often lack the resources and expertise needed to protect themselves effectively. One innovative solution to this problem is the establishment of University Cybersecurity Clinics.

These clinics are programmes that train students from diverse backgrounds and academic disciplines to strengthen the digital defences of non-profits, hospitals, municipalities, small businesses, and other under-resourced organisations. They also serve as a talent pipeline for cyber civil defence, nurturing the next generation of cybersecurity practitioners and leaders.

The Consortium of Cybersecurity Clinics, co-chaired by the Centre for Long-Term Cybersecurity and the MIT Cybersecurity Clinic, is a prime example of how these clinics operate. The Consortium coordinates activities across over a dozen university clinics nationwide, serving as a platform for clinicians, trainers, students, and advocates to share knowledge, expand the reach of cybersecurity clinics, and lower the barriers for other institutions to establish their clinics.

Ann Cleaveland, Co-Chair of the Consortium of Cybersecurity Clinics and Executive Director of the UC Berkeley Centre for Long-Term Cybersecurity, highlighted the crucial role of these clinics in local communities: “University, college, and community-college-based cybersecurity clinics are filling an essential gap in cybersecurity defence in their communities.”

In light of this, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is taking steps to support these initiatives. CISA has published a guide tailored specifically for the clinics and their clients, providing valuable information, resources, and services. This guide aims to help clinics and their clients understand how to apply these resources effectively.

CISA also focuses on raising awareness for cybersecurity clinics at both the national and local levels. This awareness-building effort aims to increase support for clinics, spotlight the valuable experience of students, help existing clinics connect with local and federal resources, and inspire universities to start new clinics.

Moreover, CISA is enhancing its direct engagement with clinics through regional Cybersecurity Advisors, who provide subject matter expertise and serve as a link with CISA’s programmes and services. At the national level, CISA is working with organisations like the Consortium of Clinics to find additional ways to support these initiatives.

Additionally, CISA is exploring ways to leverage its State and Local Cybersecurity Grant Programme (SLCGP) to support clinics. Clinics may serve as a source for states and local governments needing cybersecurity services, aligning with the goals of the SLCGP to address cyber risks to information systems owned or operated by state and local governments.

Moreover, clinics can act as a talent pipeline for the entire cybersecurity community, including CISA. By including clinic experiences and resources in its curriculum and recommendations, CISA is integrating these programmes into its broader cyber defence mission.

The University Cybersecurity Clinics represent a valuable resource in enhancing cybersecurity defence for target-rich, resource-poor organisations. As more cybersecurity clinics spread across the country, they have the potential to become a nationally scalable solution. CISA is committed to supporting these clinics and looks forward to ongoing engagement and collaboration in this critical area of cybersecurity.

Universities and colleges play a crucial role in preparing the future workforce for the challenges of the digital age. By offering specialised training in cybersecurity through clinics, these institutions are not only addressing a pressing need in the community but also providing students with practical, hands-on experience in the field.

One of the key advantages of university cybersecurity clinics is their ability to bridge the gap between academia and industry. Students participating in these clinics gain real-world experience by working on actual cybersecurity projects for organisations in need.

By helping small and local organisations improve their cybersecurity defences, these clinics contribute to the overall security and resilience of the community. This, in turn, can have a positive economic impact by preventing costly cyberattacks and data breaches.

Further, the University Cybersecurity Clinics can serve as a valuable resource for organisations that may need more resources to hire dedicated cybersecurity staff. By providing these organisations with access to cybersecurity expertise, clinics help level the playing field and ensure that even small organisations can protect themselves against cyber threats.

The impact of University Cybersecurity Clinic extends beyond the organisations they directly support. By training the next generation of cybersecurity professionals, these clinics are helping to build a more secure digital future for all. As cyber threats continue to evolve, the role of these clinics in preparing the workforce and protecting communities will only become more critical.


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