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A National Science Foundation grant will help USF recruit students to fight cybercrime

A diverse group of students work at laptops while a teacher in a jacket works with another.
University of South Florida
This year, the National Science Foundation is providing more than $29 million in new funding to support the development of a cybersecurity workforce.

Students must agree to work for the federal government in exchange for their scholarship support.

This year, the National Science Foundation is providing more than $29 million in new funding to support the development of a cybersecurity workforce.

"Cybersecurity is one of the most important issues confronting society in the information age," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. "As our reliance on the national cyberspace evolves, so does the complexity of the cyber threats we face. It is imperative that we support the development of a strong cybersecurity workforce to ensure we can all benefit from secure and trustworthy cyberspace."

In a press release, the NSF said the money is to address the “unique challenges of recruiting and retaining cybersecurity professionals to work in careers with local, state, federal or tribal governments.”

That includes more than $4 million in funding to the University of South Florida, home to Cyber Florida: The Florida Center for Cybersecurity and the Global and National Security Institute (GNSI).

That money will provide scholarships and support to at least 28 domestic graduate and undergraduate students, who will work with and be mentored by professionals from Cyber Florida and GNSI.

USF calls the new program CREST, which stands for Cybersecurity Research in Education for Service in Government.

The students agree to work in cybersecurity for a federal, state, local, or tribal government organization for the same period of time for which they received the scholarships.

Lead USF researcher Srinivas Katkoori, an associate professor of computer science and engineering, said the COVID-19 pandemic likely accelerated the need for people to work in cybersecurity.

"Because a lot of things are being done digitally, there are more security attacks and vulnerabilities. So absolutely, the pandemic I think has, in some sense, definitely highlighted the problems and also probably opened more vulnerabilities which we are trying to address,” he said.

According to a recent Cybersecurity Ventures report, the global annual cost of cybercrime is expected to top $8 trillion this year.

And Security Intelligence, a thought leadership blog run by IBM Security, reported that ransomware attacks alone accounted for nearly $1.2 billion in costs to U.S. financial institutions in 2021.

While cybersecurity may not be top of mind for everyone, Katkoori said it’s a part of our everyday lives.

"We are living in digital age, where we rely more and more on, cyberspace for all our professional and personal needs," he said, whether we’re banking or buying something online or reaching out to friends on social media.

Katkoori added that USF is developing a website to recruit students for the CREST program, with some of the focus being on attracting individuals who may be less likely to work in the engineering or IT fields, like women or veterans.

USF joins 89 academic institutions that are already part of the NSF's CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service program in 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

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