Newswise — It’s exciting and it’s dangerous.”

That’s how Ernesto Arreola describes our current state of connectivity in the world. The Information Security Assurance Manager for the City of El Paso was one of 23 attendees at the first community cybersecurity workshop at UTEP in August. The interactive session took place inside the newly established Center for Cyber Analysis and Assessment.

“I think that not only providing the training, but allowing people to do it themselves and not just talk about it, gives them the opportunity to learn more and ask questions,” Arreola said. “Bringing everybody together that’s involved in security across the city promotes networking.”

The community component is a critical part of the new partnership between UTEP and the Army. The University has been designated as a satellite campus to the Army Research Lab South (ARL-South) initiative. The collaboration allows for the exchange of personnel between ARL and UTEP, opens more ARL internship opportunities for UTEP students, and allows ARL members to mentor students through class offerings and practicum experiences.

Through in-kind contributions of equipment, construction costs, furniture, mentorship and manpower, ARL and UTEP established the cybersecurity center and laboratory at UTEP. The main function of the center is to conduct research and design and deliver cybersecurity-related workshops for the El Paso area community.

The inaugural session was a success.

“We are trying to apply any type of security processes available to our network, so it is important for users to see a presentation and see how other companies are doing it,” said Benito Jimenez, workshop attendee and network integration manager with the City of El Paso.

ARL and UTEP staff have been working together for more than two years on informal collaborations that proved beneficial. Army staff say they needed to take advantage of local talent and leverage experts and resources. The seed money they received allowed them to establish the new center in Prospect Hall equipped with server machines, laptops and three labs now under development.

“We leverage the resources that UTEP has to not only improve the capabilities of the Army Research Lab, but also help students focus on real-world problems and train them so they’re ready for the workforce,” said Jaime Acosta, Ph.D., director of the Center for Cyber Analysis and Assessment.

UTEP computer science students already are seeing the benefits. This summer the first four students were hired for the center. Their objective is to research vulnerabilities in cybersecurity and develop workshops accordingly. Data collection from the workshops also will help with researching future solutions.

“The whole idea is these are vulnerabilities and systems that adversaries can expose,” explained Salamah Salamah, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and director of the Master of Science in Software Engineering program. “By collecting and analyzing all this data, we are learning about how people expose such vulnerabilities, and hopefully it gives us insights into how to build secure software systems that are less vulnerable.”

Salamah said the UTEP/ARL collaboration also will have an impact on the industry because there is a high demand for cybersecurity experts, but diversity in the workforce is significantly lacking. The hope is that such efforts and collaborations will help produce a diverse cybersecurity workforce.


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