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UWF Hosts Cybersecurity Roundtable


Representatives from the Department of Homeland Security were joined by local officials, for a cybersecurity roundtable and career information expo Wednesday at the University of West Florida.

Government, business, and academic leaders from around the Pensacola area got the latest on fighting battles in cyberspace, which can affect everyone whose lives, part or all of it, are on a computer or mobile device.

“It’s a great opportunity that we’ve been able to assist DHS to continue to really kind of preach and talk about the message of the need for interest in cybersecurity,” said Scott Luth, CEO of Florida West, Escambia County’s economic development agency and a sponsor of the conference.

The mission for Florida West, he says, is to support and assist their existing companies, making them aware of the risks out there, and how to protect themselves and their clients.

“We’re also wanting to make sure that we as a community are assisting in the war on cybersecurity,” Luth said. “We are one of the few places in the United States that has the history [and] the knowledge of what’s going on in the world as it relates to cryptology, and now protection in cybersecurity.”

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Cybersecurity panel listens to remarks from UWF Associate Provost Pam Northrup.

“I think the forum’s coming together to highlight some of the challenges that, as a nation, we face,” said Eman El-Sheikh, Director of the Center for Cybersecurity at UWF. “And growing the talent pipeline and also some of the initiatives and opportunities that we have in northwest Florida to address those needs.”

El-Sheikh contends that one of the most important things a community can do in the fight against cyber bad guys is to join forces.

“Our business, our government, our military, our educational partners, and find out how we can continue to grow more interest and awareness in cybersecurity and the great career opportunities that we have right here,” said El-Sheikh.

UWF is designated by the National Security Agency and Homeland Security as a Center of Academic Excellence, along with the Cybersecurity Regional Hub for the Southeastern United States.

“One of the things that we’d like to do is continue to develop flexible pathways and innovative programs that will help address the workforce needs, and produce the next generation of cybersecurity leaders,” said El-Sheikh.

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
Jeanette Marfa with DHS (C) gives opening remarks, flanked by Escambia Co. Commission Chairman Doug Underhill (L), and Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward (R).

Opening remarks were delivered by Jeanette Manfra from Homeland Security in Washington, D.C. Beforehand she said such conferences outside the Beltway are critical to raising awareness and sharing ideas with communities such as Pensacola which are building cyber-workforces.

“I’d like people to take away that [DHS] is committed to working with the City of Pensacola and the University of West Florida; community organizations and businesses around here,” Manfra said. “To really invest in a workforce, in our operations, and to be making our Internet safe and secure again.”

One major challenge on the cyber-battlefield, is that whenever the good guys get a new piece of technology, the bad guys usually get the same thing – or something better.

“It is definitely a continuous challenge to stay a step ahead, and that’s why we need to be raising the next generation of network defenders,” said Manfra. “People that can understand how these things work; who think innovatively, can think like an adversary and get us to the point where the advantage is with the defenders instead of the attackers.”

According to Forbes, cybercrime is fueling the market for cybersecurity products and services. That market is expected to grow from $75 billion in 2015 to $175 billion by 2020. Also according to Forbes, the cost of cybercrime is projected to reach the two trillion dollar mark in a couple of years.

Cyber insurance is also growing in popularity, expected to rise from two and a half billion dollars in 2015 to seven and a half billion by 2019.