RIT gets $3.3 million donation from IBM for cybersecurity efforts

A more than $3.3 million gift from IBM has equipped RIT's Global Cybersecurity Institute Cyber Range and Training Center with some of the latest tools for cybersecurity experts. Photo by Elizabeth Lamark
A more than $3.3 million gift from IBM has equipped RIT’s Global Cybersecurity Institute Cyber Range and Training Center with some of the latest tools for cybersecurity experts. Photo by Elizabeth Lamark

IBM Corp. plans to make a more than $3.3 million in-kind donation to Rochester Institute of Technology to help enhance the cybersecurity capabilities in the university’s new Global Cybersecurity Institute.

The gift will enable RIT to enhance cybersecurity workforce development in the GCI’s Cyber Range and Training Center. The Cyber Range will offer immersive cyberattack training scenarios to help prepare professionals to respond more effectively to real-world cyberattacks.

The collaboration makes RIT the first university to license the IBM Security Command Cyber Range design and one of the first spaces to offer immersive cybersecurity simulations. RIT experts were inspired to go this route after visiting the IBM Cyber Range in Cambridge, Mass.

“IBM is an industry leader in cybersecurity and so we definitely appreciate the support that IBM has shown and are incredibly excited to collaborate with industry experts to lead effective change in cybersecurity,” said Steve Hoover, the Katherine Johnson executive director of GCI. “Our mission at the GCI is to make our digital world and digital selves safer, and this donation really speaks to IBM’s shared commitment to that vision.”

As part of the donation, IBM will contribute state-of-the-art software, IBM consulting services and access to curriculum and licenses to the GCI. IBM also will continue its commitment to the Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition, the top ethical hacking competition for college students, which is run by RIT. IBM will be the competition’s exclusive premier sponsor for the next five years, officials said.

“The work RIT is doing to equip future generations of cybersecurity talent is a critical facet of meeting growing demand in our field,” said Heather Ricciuto, academic and talent program manager for IBM Security. “This contribution and the ongoing collaboration between IBM and RIT can prepare learners with resources to gain experience, while also helping IBM connect with future skilled professions.”

The GCI Cyber Range will be equipped with IBM Security QRadar technology, which helps security teams accurately detect and prioritize threats across the enterprise. By consolidating data from thousands of devices, endpoints and applications distributed throughout the network, QRadar Security Information and Event Management correlates information and aggregates related events into single alerts, helping accelerate analysis and remediation.

“I’m excited because of how IBM QRadar technology connects with Watson artificial intelligence, allowing us to do a much deeper analysis of cyberattacks,” said Cyber Range Director Justin Pelletier. “Plus, we’ll get to use IBM/i2 Analyst’s Notebook tool, which lets us graphically map cybersecurity data and perform network calculations that can uncover hidden connections. Their donation to help train the next generation of cybersecurity professionals can have a long-term benefit to society as a whole.”

GCI organizers are creating different scenarios for organizations to come in and face-off against advanced persistent threats seeking to steal valuable information. For example, participants might have to defend the network of a medical center during a natural disaster or discover a malware attack that could impact millions of retail customers.

“These experiences will be varied and customized, so participants will never know exactly what to expect – just like real life,” Pelletier said.

To enhance the mood in the room, LED lights can be used during a training scenario as a welcoming blue to a stress-inducing flashing red. Rumbling speakers can be used to mimic disaster scenarios, while temperature controls can turn up the heat of the situation, officials noted.

The Cyber Range infrastructure already is being used for RIT’s Cybersecurity Bootcamp, a 15-week immersive training course that is helping people switch careers and join the cybersecurity workforce. The infrastructure also was used during the most recent Collegiate Penetration Testing Competition international finals in January. Student teams from 15 of the best cybersecurity colleges faced-off to see who was best at finding the vulnerable spots in complex computer networks. RIT’s student team placed first in the competition.

“We’ve been lucky enough to partner with RIT for the past six years to help up and coming professionals build their cyber skills through the CPTC event,” said Bob Kalka, global vice president for technical sales at IBM Security. “Our investment will help us to continue that partnership, while also providing quality technology and resources that will be instrumental in further developing the cybersecurity talent that is urgently needed across all industries.”

The IBM gift is part of the university’s largest fundraising effort in history, Transforming RIT: The Campaign for Greatness. The $1 billion campaign recently surpassed the $750 million mark.

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Technology jobs need the humanities, panelists say

Though employers, educators and even parents have fixated on STEM disciplines to prepare young people for jobs in an increasingly technological society, a recently convened expert panel said it’s important to remember the humanities.

Amanda Roth
Amanda Roth

And above all, they said, young people should be encouraged to do what they’re passionate about.

The panel on “Why STEM Needs the Arts & Humanities” was assembled by the Institute for Humanities at Monroe Community College earlier this month, and included:

Michael Jacobs, dean of humanities and social sciences at MCC and director of the institute, said the rise in global technologies has been accompanied by a precipitous drop in interest in majors in the humanities, which include English, modern languages, history, social sciences, philosophy, anthropology and others.

“This is a false dichotomy and stunts our growth as human beings,” Jacobs said.  STEM education needs people educated in what it means to be human,” he said.

Education in the humanities, Roth said, nevertheless may lead to a job in the STEM arena.  Those majors specialize in skills that STEM jobs need, she suggested, including critical thinking, reading comprehension, logical analysis, argumentation, persuasive communication, ethics and values, and global and multicultural awareness.

For instance, Nissan used anthropological studies of human behavior to improve its driverless cars, she said.

All three panelists provided evidence, whether personal or general, that people who succeed in technology fields often bring with them varied experience outside of science, technology, engineering and math.

Eric Berridge
Eric Berridge

Berridge, for example, has spent his entire career working in computer software but majored in English and rhetoric. He told a story, reprised from a TED Talk he gave in 2018 about how he and his Bluewolf partners sent in a bartender, who majored in philosophy but dropped out of college, to negotiate with an unhappy client. The bartender used his good listening skills and analytical mind to figure out what the client really needed instead of focusing on the technical issues that had stumped the programmers.

And though Munson is an electrical engineer by training, he described his brief and joyful career as theater parent that led to his starring as the Tin Man in a production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Munson has, since arriving at RIT, made efforts to swing the university toward more music and performing arts as a way to engage and expand upon the multiple talents of science-minded students.

“My advice is always take a degree in what you’re passionate about,” Munson said. But he also recommended liberal arts majors take some courses in business and computing while STEM majors add courses in creativity and synthesis.

In the growing demand for cybersecurity experts, he said, “We need more people working on the problem who actually understand humans.”  Issues of privacy and ethics come from humanities studies, he noted.

“We’re living in a world where technology is easier to consume, to learn,” Berridge said, so it’s not always necessary anymore to get a degree in technology to be able to use it, he said. “The path of your success is to find your own passion.”

Roth talked about a college fair where a student was headed toward a table for philosophy and women’s studies when a parent grabbed the student’s arm and led him in another direction.

David Munson
David Munson

Munson added that during the depths of the Great Recession, parents were afraid their children wouldn’t get a job after graduating from college, and enrollments in computer science programs tripled. But he cautioned that picking a major based on a job ignores the fact that people and their interests change, he said, noting that he never dreamed of being a college president.

Berridge was even more direct: “It’s irresponsible for us to push children into subject matter we think will get them a job,” he said.

Berridge pulled job listings off a Google website and found that of the more than 9,000 jobs Google posted, less than 30 percent asked for a degree in computers. The company also needs people with expertise in marketing, sales, human relations and other non-STEM fields.

While technology fields help us know how to build things, humanities teach us what to build and why, she said.

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