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Alumni Magazine

Cybersecurity initiative aims to help North Carolina’s economy grow

Color illustration of interconnectivity of internet and online security.

A new coalition that will enhance North Carolina’s economy and keep its citizens safe through education, research, services and outreach work in cybersecurity will benefit from a $2 million grant from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity located within the National Security Agency (NSA).

The North Carolina Partnership for Cybersecurity Excellence (NC-PaCE) will bring eight of North Carolina’s universities and community colleges together with public agencies and private-sector businesses to address a growing workforce gap and establish cybersecurity as an economic development tool for the state. In helping to protect the state’s financial and intellectual property assets from cyber threats, the coalition will help drive the state’s economy by giving North Carolina businesses the skilled workers, knowledge and support that they need to grow their existing industries and by helping to encourage entrepreneurs to start new ventures in the area of security.

Cyberseek, an organization that tracks the cybersecurity job market, ranks North Carolina sixth in the country in terms of the number of cybersecurity job openings and puts the state at twice the national average in terms of geographic concentration/location quotient, a measure of the concentration of cybersecurity job demand. Its data lists 21,010 security job openings in the state. Average annual salaries for such roles exceed $100,000.

“The need for cybersecurity-trained professionals is real in North Carolina,” said Laurie Williams, Distinguished University Professor in NC State’s Department of Computer Science (CSC) and co-director of the coalition. “NC-PaCE will propel the development of cybersecurity expertise necessary to support NC industry and government and to establish cybersecurity as an economic development tool for the state.”

NC-PaCE will be headquartered in NC State’s Secure Computing Institute (SCI), which was created in 2019 to be a leading center for security education and research. East Carolina University, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, University of North Carolina Wilmington and Forsyth, Wake and Pitt community colleges are partnering institutions.

Color illustration of interconnectivity of internet and online security.

This coalition will provide companies and public-sector agencies with a diverse and specialized set of security education, research and services. Their coursework and research curriculum through NC-PaCE will be tailored to the needs of the state to ensure that a trained workforce and the latest knowledge in security are both available to address challenges that are impeding North Carolina’s economic and entrepreneurial growth.

Along with undergraduate and graduate education at partnering universities and colleges, the coalition will provide continuing education for the existing workforce and create an educational pipeline that includes outreach to K-12 schools and community colleges and specifically targets the state’s large military population. NC-PaCE will also focus on ensuring that students from diverse backgrounds are provided with equal access to education and career opportunities in this growing field.

A planned government and industry advisory board includes representatives from across the state’s finance, energy, technology and defense sectors. An NC-PaCE survey of representatives from these and other industries and government found a strong desire for access to research focused on foundational elements of secure system development and access to graduates of both four- and two-year college and university degree programs focused on cybersecurity knowledge and skills.

Building off of previous successful efforts at NC State to obtain industry startup funding to support cybersecurity research, NC-PaCE will establish a membership model that will allow businesses and government agencies to benefit from the group’s research and expertise. That model is just one part of a plan for long-term sustainability that would make NC-PaCE a resource for North Carolina for years to come.

Security powerhouse

The CSC department at NC State has positioned itself as a national leader in the area of cybersecurity through research, education and extension. Along with the creation of SCI, in recent years the department has added undergraduate and master’s tracks and an undergraduate concentration in security. It has also launched a CyberCorps Scholarships for Service program available to undergraduate and graduate students with help from National Science Foundation funding.

Since 2012, the department has led an NSA Science of Security Lablet. These multi-disciplinary labs at a handful of leading U.S. research institutions promote security and privacy science as a recognized field of research and encourage rigorous research methodologies.

“Our vision is to become a national model for cybersecurity education, and economic development through cybersecurity, and to enable businesses and governments to thrive despite the ever-growing aggression and creativity of hackers,” said William Enck, professor in NC State CSC and the other co-director of NC-PaCE.

The need for cybersecurity-trained professionals is real in North Carolina.” – Laurie Williams

In the Wolfpack Security and Privacy Research Lab, computer science faculty members and students model, design, build and validate technology that protects users, systems and networks from malicious and privacy-infringing acts. Ph.D. students and lab members Abida Haque and Lorenzo Neil are interested in post-graduation positions with national labs or at large companies that have the ability to conduct meaningful research.

Neil said that he can see how the research that he is doing in areas including human factors — how the choices that users make can affect the security of systems — can have a real impact.

Haque said that earning a Ph.D. is building on her previous academic and workforce experiences and helping her to think in a different way.

“Now you’re in charge of coming up with things that people haven’t come up with before,” she said.

For more information on NC-PaCE, including how to join as a government or industry member, contact Williams at or 919.513.4151.