In the age of technology, a new college scholarship program is helping train people to fight cybercrime and fill gaps in the cybersecurity industry in the United States.

“Tampa is one of many emerging tech hubs in Florida, along with Miami, Orlando, to some extent Jacksonville and Pensacola,” said Kate Whitaker, associate director of cyber support at Cyber ​​Florida.

Cybersecurity experts have said there is a shortage of cybersecurity professionals, especially those working in government. According to CyberSeek, there are approximately 750,000 cybersecurity vacancies and 40,000 vacancies in Florida. Whitaker said the pandemic has really accelerated that need.

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“You have all these employees working from home, from restaurants, cafes, wherever they are. This creates new vulnerabilities that require a greater cybersecurity workforce to mitigate them,” said Whitaker.

The University of South Florida landed a $4 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fuel this pipeline, creating scholarships for a new cybersecurity education program called CREST, or Cybersecurity Research in Education for Service in Government. . Undergraduate and graduate students will train with Cyber ​​Florida at USF for hands-on experience.

“They learn all of these skills, how to find them, how to review them, how to break them down, and how to report them in an actionable way for IT staff to take care of,” Whitaker said of how students use a lab to help monitor the college network to learn skills. “Nothing beats hands-on experience with the keyboard. So you can have a four-year degree or even a master’s degree and have a hard time finding a job if you don’t have the hands-on experience of looking on a network and finding things or breaking into testing a network.”

USF’s new program trades free education for public service in a high-demand industry, and program director Srinivas Katkoori said about 28 students will receive the scholarships for fall 2023.

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“They will be supported for up to three years. And they will take appropriate courses, do research, train. They will do internships in government agencies,” said Katkoori, an associate professor of computer science and engineering at the USF.

Katkoori said the program requires students to work for government agencies for as long as they have the scholarship.

“There is a need for cybersecurity in the government workforce, and unfortunately that need is not being met,” Katkoori said.

As threats increase daily, it’s a win-win for agencies and for students.

“It’s really about giving access to more students to be able to enter the field,” Whitaker said.

Katkoori said students will be able to apply at cybercore.usf.edu and crest.usf.edu in a few weeks when the websites go live. Anyone with questions or seeking more information about the CREST program can contact Srinivas Katkoori at katkoori@usf.edu.

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