Thursday, July 18, 2024

LSU leads the way in cyber protection for Louisiana higher education

by BIZ Magazine

BATON ROUGE – LSU is pursuing a bold vision to work side-by-side with industry to put students on the frontlines of the relentless global fight against cyberattacks. The establishment of a student-run Security Operations Center, or SOC, on LSU’s flagship campus in Baton Rouge with an immediate counterpart at LSU Shreveport will enhance the security posture of the LSU system. The SOCs will leverage shared resources and threat intelligence across Louisiana and create a blueprint for as many as 31 institutions of higher learning in the state to protect themselves from cyberattacks.

In partnership with Splunk, the market leader in software and solutions to secure complex digital infrastructures, and TekStream, Splunk’s cloud partner that brings technical expertise and staffing solutions to organizations of all sizes, LSU will give students the opportunity to get hands-on experience in this critical field.

Losses from cyberattacks have increased five-fold in the U.S. over the past five years, according to the most recent FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, report.

“In our continued pursuit of excellence through LSU’s Scholarship First Agenda, we’re reimagining cyber-education,” LSU President William F. Tate IV said. “Establishing our own SOC with broad benefits for Louisiana higher education is directly in line with our service mission and a natural evolution of Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations, or CAE-CO, designation by the National Security Agency, NSA, last year. Pairing students directly with leading security experts in industry and research elevates their learning experiences for the benefit of our nation.”

Louisiana’s investment in broadband and research infrastructure as well as its focus on cybersecurity positions the state to strategically align its cyber education and defense. The critical connection between LSU’s flagship campus in Baton Rouge, LSU Shreveport and as many as 31 universities in Louisiana is the Louisiana Optical Network Infrastructure, or LONI, a high-speed fiberoptic network owned by the Louisiana Board of Regents and managed by LSU. By reimagining existing state infrastructure as a cyber platform, LSU and LONI will enable statewide reach of more affordable SOC services and cyber defense.

LSU has reached a first-of-its-kind agreement with TekStream to train LSU students and work with them 24/7 to manage the LSU SOC using Splunk technology. Students from across the LSU campus will be trained at the same level as TekStream employees on cyberattacks, analysis, network defense, policy and escalation and real-time response tactics to actual incidents.

“When LSU approached us, we immediately saw the opportunity to work with the university as a partner and not just as a client,” said Rob Jansen, TekStream’s CEO. “The U.S. has an extreme shortage of trained cybersecurity experts, with over 300,000 unfilled positions in 2022 alone. As the shortage is projected to grow, our motivation is to work with LSU to develop the best cyber talent throughout Louisiana. And of course, we hope to recruit many of these students after they graduate.”

“At Splunk, we believe student-run SOCs are game-changers for the development of future cybersecurity leaders and LSU is one of the trailblazers in this area,” said Group Vice President Mary Lou Prevost, the state, local and education engagement lead at Splunk. “Leveraging Splunk’s technology, our partnership with LSU provides students with a hands-on approach and empowers them with the certifications, curriculum and practical knowledge necessary to grow along the front lines of cybersecurity efforts worldwide.”

The SOC development will have three stages. First, LSU Baton Rouge, LSU Shreveport and TekStream will stand up physical SOCs that use Splunk tools to monitor network traffic and computer systems across the flagship and Shreveport campuses. Second, starting this fall, students from any discipline—not just computer science and engineering—will be recruited and trained to work in the SOCs with continuous TekStream support, with the two campuses working independently while sharing threat intelligence.

“One of the most compelling aspects of the SOC is that it will be open to all students, since talent for cyber isn’t only about being good at computer science, but also understanding logic and human behavior,” said Craig Woolley, chief information officer at LSU. “We’re deeply appreciative that TekStream was open to our idea of working together on both the defense and educational aspects of our model, enabling the ability to scale to other schools with LSU going first. TekStream also agreed to a unique and flexible pricing model that incentivizes everyone in the mix—industry, universities, students—to get better at detecting and defending against cyber threats.”

In a third phase enabled by LONI, LSU and TekStream will scale SOC capabilities to universities across the state and offer multiple opportunities for engagement and increased security. New partner schools can choose to stand up their own physical and independent SOCs, run by their own students, or have LSU extend its SOC services to protect other campuses, with LSU students actively monitoring and fighting off cyber threats throughout Louisiana.

The unique pricing model negotiated by LSU and TekStream means every cyberattack that is detected and remediated by university students and staff will lower the bill for continuous and cutting-edge security services shared among all participating universities in the state.

As part of the Louisiana legislature’s historic investment in higher education in 2022, LSU Baton Rouge and LSU Shreveport received $2.5 million each toward investments in cyber education and research. Those investments directly enabled the SOC development and were also soon leveraged and validated by LSU’s designation as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations by the NSA.

The state of Louisiana had the foresight to be one of the first states in the nation to establish an emergency support function, or ESF, for cybersecurity. Louisiana responds to cyber incidents across the state in a scalable fashion similar to how it responds to other manmade or natural disasters, with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, or GOHSEP, as coordinator.

As the state’s chief cyber officer, Dustin Glover works directly with GOHSEP, the Louisiana National Guard and the Louisiana State Police’s Cyber Crime Unit to protect state and local government, critical infrastructure, industry and communities—including schools—from cyberattacks. He sees the potential for the growing footprint of the LSU SOC and increased sharing of threat intelligence between participating schools and state agencies to decrease the growing burden on law enforcement and the state to handle incident response for institutions of higher education, thus stretching the state’s resources and capabilities.

“We are very grateful for this partnership,” Glover said. “More entities trained in threat assessment enables Louisiana to increase visibility of cyber incidents, and sharing those threats in a timely manner makes us all stronger. And the students will receive irreplaceable real-world experience in this space, allowing us to help develop the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.”

LSUS Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives Julie Lessiter sees LSU’s parallel SOC development in Baton Rouge and Shreveport as the natural evolution for an aligned university system focused on cyber that is working in partnership with the state to serve all students.

“From the south to the north, we can work together to grow our own cyber expertise,” Lessiter said. “The SOC will enable us to solve multiple problems, but the most important aspect is connecting our students with industry to tackle real-world challenges in real time where our students gain hands-on experience from working with each other, with our faculty and with state and federal agencies.”

As part of its student-run SOC, LSUS recently established a competitive, year-long cyber internship program that will be open to any Louisiana student—not just from LSU—who wants to gain work experience in incident response to cyberattacks as well as a competitive advantage in applying for cybersecurity jobs after graduation.

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