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New England security group shares threat intelligence, strives to bolster region as cybersecurity mecca

John Dix | Dec. 17, 2014
ACSC Executive Director Charlie Benway and ACSC Board Chair William Guenther (CEO and Founder of Mass Insight) shares insights into the organization's goals.

That's a play where this region has unique assets across not only the technology centers — CSAIL at MIT and UMass, Northeastern, BU, etc. — but also with the Sloan School and other business schools here, the law schools, the Kennedy School, etc.

But our strength in some ways has been our limitation, in that we have these extraordinary assets but they're fragmented. That's why you need centers of excellence that bring together multiple universities and multiple companies around this combination of soft science, business and hard science.

If you think about the research play and you understand that companies are first and foremost looking for talent from universities, and then you embed the talent play inside the research operation, it's an opportunity to bring graduate students and the best and brightest from the universities together with industry to collaborate on common problems and issues that align with the academic work and the commercial needs. The idea is that then these companies will hire some of these guys. These partnerships, in addition to solving problems, serve as a talent pipeline for companies looking to develop and recruit emerging talent from our universities.

To be frank, that sounds like a monumental challenge.

GUENTHER: What is complex is the multiparty collaboration, getting multiple companies and multiple universities to work together. But we're not making this up from scratch.  It happened in the semiconductor industry on a large scale basis in the 80s with something called International Sematech. It's still around. Major universities collaborated with semiconductor companies who recognized that Japan Inc. represented a threat in semiconductors, and that if they didn't collaborate around tools, education, resources and standards, they might be put out of business. That's usually used as the primary large-scale example of a precompetitive collaboration among industry players.

If you get a little bit less ambitious about it you can focus on setting up a regional entity, or center of excellence. The National Science Foundation has funded what are called ERCs, Engineering Research Centers. We've got several of them here in Massachusetts and they involve more than one university and more than one industry partner. So again, we're not making this up. There are actual models out there. We just haven't done it in cybersecurity.

Is part of the goal to address the widely perceived shortage of security talent?

BENWAY: Everybody knows IT jobs are growing faster than other disciplines, and according to some studies, cybersecurity jobs are growing 12 times faster than IT jobs. One study said we need to produce 130,000 software engineers a year and the universities are only producing 30,000. So that kind of frames the problem today. Moving forward, that's one of the objectives of the R&D consortium, to help identify talent, develop that talent, and connect that talent with industry.


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