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America’s Newest Cyber Defenders Come From a Town You Haven’t Heard Of (Yet)

America’s Newest Cyber Defenders Come From a Town You Haven’t Heard Of (Yet)
Get started on your cybersecurity degree at American Military University.

By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, In Military and InCyberDefense

The global cybercrime epidemic is predicted to cost the world $6 trillion annually by 2021, according to CSO. As a result, there will be a need to fill 3.5 million cybersecurity positions globally by then.

Furthermore, these jobs will have pay scales that are beyond competitive, making cybersecurity not only essential but extremely attractive to younger, tech-savvy generations.

While governments and corporations struggle to stay ahead of the ever-evolving threats to cybersecurity, a small town in rural Michigan is developing the next generation of cyber warriors.

I accepted an invitation from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to tour the Pinckney Cyber Training Institute, co-located in Pinckney Community High School. I came away impressed by the professionalism of both the students and instructors and left convinced that the future of cybersecurity is in great hands.

Humble Beginnings

The Michigan Cyber Range was a foundational concept of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s cyber initiative. The initiative was launched in October 2011 to improve cybersecurity for families, communities, businesses and government.

Shortly afterward, the Michigan Cyber Range was established by Merit Network, a nonprofit member-governed organization that provides computer networking and related services to education, government, health care, and other nonprofits. Created in 1966, Merit operates the longest running regional computer network in the United States.

The continued expansion of Michigan’s statewide Cyber Range is a key strategy to prepare Michigan’s current and future workforce for careers in the exploding field of cybersecurity.

An Unlikely Location

Pinckney is a rural town in southeastern Michigan with a population of 2,427. Located in the rolling hills and vast stretches of farmland of Livingston County, Pinckney seems like an odd place for a cyber hub.

In the summer of 2016, the Merit Network announced that Pinckney Community High School had been selected as a Cyber Range Hub. The Pinckney Cyber Training Institute and Sentinel Center officially opened that December.

The 5000-square-foot institute caters not only to high school and college students but also to working adults and IT professionals who need cyber certifications to stay current or to advance their career.

The Institute offers more than 20 cybersecurity courses, including Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Information Systems Security Professional, Penetration Testing, Healthcare Information Security, Cisco Certified Network Associate and CompTIA Security +, among many others.

A Passion for Cybersecurity

I met with staff members who displayed a real passion for helping young people succeed in their education goals. But more impressive were the students, a diverse array of young men and women who, despite several visiting journalists interrupting their work, seemed completely engaged in the process of collaborative learning.

These young people will be the first and last line of defense against the global cybercrime epidemic.

During my visit, there was a clear emphasis on automotive security; after all, the Institute is in Michigan, home of the “Big Three” U.S. automotive manufacturers. As the push toward autonomous vehicles continues — led by the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), in Warren, Michigan — the ability of hackers to infiltrate a vehicle’s information systems is an ever more serious concern.

So it’s fitting that a Michigan high school would become the first U.S. institute dedicated to preparing young adults for the challenges of an interconnected world. In fact, while speaking with an administrator, I learned that Pinckney students often compete in “wargames” and give the cyber experts in the Michigan National Guard a run for their money.

Optimistic about the Nation’s Future in Cybersecurity

Leaving Pinckney for the next stop on our media tour, I couldn’t help but feel energized, confident and, most of all, optimistic about our nation’s future in cybersecurity. The Pinckney Cyber Training Institute and its sister facility at Wayne State University in Detroit can lead other communities in other states in our nation’s ongoing Apollo program to close the cyber talent gap.

The Pinckney Cyber Training Institute is an example of what can happen when political leadership, nonprofit compassion, and corporate economic empowerment perfectly align for the benefit of the region. After all, the Institute was originally conceived as an economic stimulus for southeastern Michigan. But it has achieved so much more, inspiring other organizations that want to copy its blueprint.

In the end, Pinckney, Michigan, may well end up as the small town that saved America. What started as a regional stimulus has turned into a call to action for cyber defenders nationwide. That means our future is bright.

For more information on the Pinckney Cyber Training Institute and Sentinel Center, check out their site at https://pinckneycti.org/