COOKEVILLE – Cybersecurity is on the minds of government officials all over the world. And one person they want to hear from regarding cybersecurity is Tennessee Tech computer science professor Ambareen Siraj.
The director of Tech’s Cybersecurity Education, Research and Outreach Center, Siraj spent two days speaking at the Global Cybersecurity Forum in Saudi Arabia before testifying to the Subcommittee on Research and Technology, House Committee on Science, Space and Technology in Washington, D.C.
On Capitol Hill, Siraj was asked to testify during a hearing that explored the challenges faced by organizations in both public and private sectors in recruiting skilled cybersecurity professionals and discussed the strategies to expand and diversify the cybersecurity workforce pipeline to meet demand.
“There are 3.5 million jobs that will go unfilled as predicted next year worldwide in cybersecurity if things don’t change,” Siraj told the subcommittee. “As we speak today, there are more than half a million jobs unfilled in the United States in cybersecurity. With every 10 jobs, only two are going to get filled. In Tennessee, there are more than 5,000 jobs open. It is a big problem.
“Tennessee Tech has earned a reputation statewide for undergraduate engineering education and, by far, offers the best overall cybersecurity education program in the state. Through CEROC’s programs, Tennessee Tech has developed a recognized brand in cybersecurity at the state and national levels in the education, government, and industry sectors,” Siraj said. “This has been possible only because of the support, opportunities and resources that we have received through competitive federal programs. Without such programs in place, CEROC might not have existed at its capacity today, and the wide impact of CEROC would not have happened.”
CEROC was established in Summer 2015 with in an effort to integrate university-wide existing activities and initiatives in cybersecurity education, research and outreach. It is unique in the state of Tennessee because it emphasizes integration of education, research and outreach. CEROC produces security conscious students to enter the computing workforce and creates a pipeline of cyber defenders and researchers by educating them with a standard cybersecurity curriculum that integrates original research of our faculty in this area.
Along with Rodney Peterson from the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, and Sony Miller, human resource director for IBM Security and Enterprise & Technology Security, Siraj gave a five-minute testimony before answering questions from the subcommittee.
“Over the last few years, CEROC projects have impacted thousands of secondary and post-secondary students and faculty in Tennessee and outside Tennessee through federal grant programs,” Siraj testified. “To bolster the cybersecurity workforce, I urge Congress to invest in federal programs and especially enable educational and non-profit programs that support diverse population in cyber, community colleges pathways, preparation and pipeline of educators and non-traditional pathway workers.
“Congress should also fund programs or campaigns that can take on the image problem of cybersecurity so that the public gets the message: ‘cybersecurity is more than hacks, and its impact in modern society is undeniable.’”
Siraj wrapped up her testimony by urging Congress to support federal programs that have helped schools like Tennessee Tech.
“I think we have an excellent computer science department, and we are doing a lot to educate students in computer science,” said Siraj. “I always tell people our students are the gas that keeps us running. We have wonderful students. They are so humble and hard-working.”
In leading a panel on diversity and cybersecurity workforce at the Forum in Saudi Arabia, Siraj was able to share her knowledge and explain how Tennessee Tech educates students to become cyber savvy. She also took the opportunity to recruit new students to the program.
“It was very encouraging to see young men and women coming together and taking on this challenge of cybersecurity and their willingness to work with the world and not just their own country,” Siraj said. “I also talked to leaders in national cybersecurity authority to see how we can have bright cyber students come to Tennessee Tech for graduate school.”
“It says a lot about our program,” said Siraj on her recent invitations to speak on cybersecurity. “I asked one of the staff (at the forum) why they selected me and he said that it was because I am doing a lot of things in workforce development and diversity, and that Tennessee Tech, through CEROC, is working on a lot of good things.”
Siraj teaches various undergraduate and graduate security classes, specializing in cyber-physical systems security, network security, security education and workforce development. She is also the founder and conference chair of the Women In Cybersecurity Initiative (WiCyS).
For more information on the Global Cybersecurity Forum, go to https://globalcybersecurityforum.com/.
To watch Siraj’s entire testimony to the Subcommittee on Research and Technology, House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology in Washington, D.C., go to
https://science.house.gov/hearings/more-hires-fewer-hacks-developing-the-us-cybersecurity-workforce. She is introduced at the 25-minute mark and her opening remarks begin at 33:35.