As the nature of digital warfare evolves, the need for a workforce trained in cybersecurity is critical for defending the United States from attacks. In response to the growing threat and the need for talent, the University of Houston has joined a consortium funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to launch a virtual institute that will recruit and train the next generation to combat cyber warfare, including cyber espionage and attacks on the electromagnetic spectrum.
The virtual institute, called Virtual Institutes for Cyber and Electromagnetic Spectrum Research and Employ (VICEROY) DECREE, will be led by Northeastern University. It will offer a two-year scholarship program focused on advanced cybersecurity, the electromagnetic spectrum, cryptography, data science, DoD research and strategic foreign languages, including Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Persian and Korean. The program will be offered across five universities, including UH, Northern Arizona University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of South Carolina, and will include experiential learning opportunities, such as co-op positions at the DoD and other employers within the consortium partners’ networks.
“The VICEROY DECREE virtual institute consortium model is transformational. It brings together the best offerings from multiple institutions to meet the workforce training needs in these domains,” said Hanadi Rifai, Moores Professor of civil and environmental engineering and UH team lead on the project.
The scholarship program will fund 60 students and is open to veterans, ROTC students and civilians, with a particular emphasis on underrepresented minorities, women and those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Students eligible to enroll must be security clearance-eligible U.S. citizens.
A critical focus of the program will be the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes radio waves and is a critical enabler for communications, navigation, radar, training and other military operations. International adversaries have engaged in cyber espionage and hacking, infiltrated U.S. trade secrets and launched cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure. They are now developing electronic warfare weapons focused on the DoD’s ability to operate in the spectrum.
“We recognize the importance and need for workforce training in cybersecurity, electromagnetism, cryptography and data science. These are areas of specific focus and expertise on our campus,” said Paula Myrick Short, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.
As a signal of the urgency, DoD has been seeking to hire more than 8,000 cyber workers to help defend the virtual space.
“The battlefield has evolved, and our adversaries can now exploit vulnerabilities in cyberspace, where information resides and is accessed, and in the electromagnetic spectrum, where signals are transmitted,” said Jose Sierra, a Northeastern associate teaching professor and associate director for cybersecurity who is leading VICEROY DECREE at Northeastern. “Spectrum superiority is critical in military operations because electromagnetic radiation is used in command, control, and communications for radios, drones, and wireless devices; in navigation systems, like GPS; and in surveillance systems, like radars.”
The two-year program starts in fall 2022 and may be extended beyond its initial two-year commitment. It is funded by a $1.5 million award from the Griffiss Institute, a nonprofit talent and technology accelerator for DoD and its academic, government and industry partners around the world. The university consortium supporting this program is associated with the Virtual Institutes for Cyber and Electromagnetic Spectrum Research and Employ (VICEROY), a DoD initiative launched with the Griffiss Institute that was funded by the 2019 John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act.
The institute will extend its reach to high-school students, with a special focus on women and underrepresented minorities, to help meet the demand for cybersecurity workers at DoD and the Defense Industrial Base, which provides the products and services for military operations.
Additionally, VICEROY DECREE will offer free training to faculty at community colleges and minority-serving institutions, with stipends for faculty who go on to teach cybersecurity and the electromagnetic spectrum in their classrooms.