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UArizona Cybersecurity Clinic will protect businesses from online threats, develop students’ skills

Courtesy of Brett Sayles

Community and nonprofit organizations across southern Arizona will soon have access to free cybersecurity services and support from the UArizona Cybersecurity Clinic, an initiative established by the University of Arizona College of Applied Science and Technology.

The college, headquartered at the university’s Sierra Vista campus, was recently awarded $1 million from Google’s Cybersecurity Clinics Fund to establish the clinic, which will provide free digital security services to organizations, similar to how law or medical schools offer community clinics. Instead of assisting with court cases or health checks, faculty and students will conduct vulnerability assessments, security audits and compliance checks, and offer policy and procedure development and more.

“As cyber threats become more sophisticated, the need for comprehensive cybersecurity education and preparedness has never been more urgent,” said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. “This clinic will be instrumental in advancing our community’s understanding of cyber threats and help develop innovative solutions. This program reaffirms our commitment to producing highly skilled graduates who will be defenders in the digital age and exemplifies our commitment to community impact as Arizona’s land-grant university.”

UArizona joins 15 other higher education institutions across the country launching clinics this year thanks to a collaboration between Google and the Consortium of Cybersecurity Clinics, an organization established in 2021 to train the next generation of cyber leaders and protect community organizations from online threats. This year’s announcement follows Google’s 2023 support for 10 clinics, part of a commitment to launch 25 Google-supported cybersecurity clinics nationwide by 2025.

In addition to the $1 million in funding, the UArizona clinic will receive mentorship from Google employees, scholarships for the Google Career Certificate in Cybersecurity and Google Titan Security Keys – USB devices that help prevent phishing attempts and improve overall cyber safety.

Nicol Rae, the college’s acting dean, said the establishment of the cybersecurity clinic reinforces the college’s status as a national leader in cybersecurity education, and recognizes the efforts of “our stellar cyber operations faculty,” led by Paul Wagner, associate professor of practice and clinic director.

“I am very proud and excited that CAST (the College of Applied Science and Technology) will be the home of the University of Arizona’s cybersecurity clinic funded by Google,” Rae said. “At CAST, we take pride in providing programs that equip our students with robust skill sets, ensuring they can apply their knowledge immediately upon graduation. Through working with the clinic, our students will foster relationships with small businesses and immerse themselves in industry best practices, ensuring that they are both future-focused and career-ready.”

As the clinic’s director, Wagner said he looks forward to not only supporting community organizations with their cyber safety needs but also providing students the chance for experiential learning.

“I am excited to connect students with opportunities and real-world experiences,” Wagner said. “The work we provide in the classroom is amazing, but there is always a lack of realism. With this clinic, we are not only helping our students become better future employees; we’re securing our communities.”

Wagner and his colleagues are developing the structure for the UArizona clinic, which will open in January and is initially planned for six years of operations. Wagner said they will start by working with local small businesses, hospitals, schools and community groups in Pima County, though he expects the clinic to eventually make connections with clients throughout Arizona.

While Wagner may lead the clinic, the work of educating and improving clients’ cyber safety will primarily fall to specially trained students who receive a Google-backed cybersecurity certification and complete a series of training modules developed by the clinic. Over the course of that training, students will learn to prepare and deliver speeches on cyber safety and work with clients to assess and meet their needs.

With such a robust training program planned, Wagner said students of any academic background or experience level will be welcome to join – so long as they bring with them a passion and curiosity for cybersecurity.

“We are in a world where our safety is constantly at risk,” Wagner said. “Attackers are no longer targeting just large businesses. Organizations of any size, employees and citizens are at risk. Our digital footprint and interaction with technology ties our data and digital identity to everything. Our goal is to make sure that everybody we engage with is a little bit more aware and a little bit more secure in their daily lives.”




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