Ohio Cyber Range warriors at the University of Akron got a pep talk and a recruitment pitch Tuesday from two of the state’s highest cyber officials.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose told students in UA’s expanding cybersecurity program that they have myriad opportunities with the state and in the business world.

On the government side, LaRose said a cyber reserve created by legislation working its way through the Ohio Assembly would create a need for volunteers with skills like those taught in UA’s program.

The reserve would be placed under the direction of the Ohio Adjutant General’s Department and would be open to UA cybersecurity majors after training and certification.

LaRose said the reserve is a necessary addition to the state’s cyber capabilities and likened the damage from a cyberattack to one caused by a physical assault.

“You all will be on the front lines of that fight,” he said.

Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., the state’s adjutant general, said maintaining cybersecurity is vital to the integrity of the state’s elections.

“It’s critical in a republic, in a democracy, that people have confidence in the voting and election system,” Harris said. “We want to help those [communities] that don’t know what their vulnerabilities are.”

Since establishing its cybersecurity program in fall 2017, UA has seen a dramatic increase in its popularity and enrollment. Currently, 163 students are in the program, with that number anticipated to rise as high as 300 by September.

Kelly Herold, assistant dean of the College of Applied Science and Technology, said the program is developing partnerships with school districts around the state. One concluded recently with the Barberton school district allowing students to take up to 15 credit hours in UA’s program.

She said a recent donation to the program will add industrial control capabilities to the Cyber Range, which is housed in the Polsky Building. In January, a $1.18 million agreement between UA, the Ohio Adjutant General’s Department and the Ohio Department of Higher Education enabled the university to double its Cyber Range capacity.

LaRose said the range at UA, which should be up and running in the fall, will give students a state-of-the-art experience.

“There are bad guys out there who want to do harm to our infrastructure, our elections,” he said. “This fall at the University of Akron, you’ll be training on the best scenarios we have.”

Harris said that the Ohio National Guard’s current computer unit acts as a first responder to cyberattacks.

“Our business is to thwart the attack itself,” he said.

After that threat is eliminated, the Guard’s cyber experts help get the compromised system up and running, leaving the scene to investigatory agencies such as the FBI.

Harris said his department places great responsibility on its computer commandos.

“We treat our cyber experts as special operators — as cyber Green Berets,” he said.

LaRose said he recently had a conversation with Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan about cybersecurity and the mayor indicated he would be willing to go to Columbus to testify about its importance.

The city of Akron was hit in January by a cyberattack that took much of the system offline and wreaked havoc on the email system. Most noticeable for many residents was the loss of online 311 capability.

At the time, the Ohio National Guard’s cyber units helped ameliorate early effects of the attack.

In an emailed statement, Ellen Lander Nischt, press secretary for the mayor, said the National Guard's help proved invaluable.

"In Akron in January of 2019, we were affected by a cyber incident that required the activation of the Ohio National Guard Cyber Response Team.  The team was comprised of cybersecurity professionals that provided great value, expertise, perseverance and resolve to assist Akron’s IT team in containing and eliminating the threat," Lander Nischt wrote. "Mayor Horrigan believes the city is fortunate to have had such expert assistance during a challenging time."

The cyber reserve is another tool the state can use in such cases, LaRose said. He stressed the importance of a rapid response of which the cyber reserve — and UA cybersecurity majors — could be part.

“If we saw paratroopers parachute into Akron, we wouldn’t say to Akron: ‘You’re on your own,’ ” he said. “This is something we’re taking very seriously.”

 

Alan Ashworth can be reached at 330-996-3859 or contact him by email at aashworth@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @newsalanbeaconjournal.