AUGUST 5, 2021 — The Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security (CIAS) was established at UTSA in 2001 as a cybersecurity research center to help advance the state of the nation's cybersecurity posture.
Soon thereafter, the CIAS began meeting the nation's need for grassroots programs to help local communities and governments prevent and defend against cyberattacks.
Twenty years later, the CIAS is leveraging its experience and research to improve cybersecurity capabilities and collaboration for the benefit of communities nationwide.
Following several years of working to help states and communities establish their own cybersecurity programs, the CIAS developed the Community Cyber Security Maturity Model (CCSMM). The model helps communities establish foundational cyber capabilities and improve upon that expertise.
“Early on, we discovered that community cybersecurity is the weak link in the nation’s cybersecurity chain,” said Greg White, director of the CIAS. “That is arguably even more true today. Cross-sector collaboration is essential in identifying attacks, and the CCSMM is helping us work with communities to build viable, sustainable cybersecurity programs so they can prepare for cyberattacks, respond effectively during an attack and determine what to do after an attack.”
As organizations and communities nationwide fall victim to ransomware and other cyber-attacks, the CIAS continues to focus on a “whole community” preparedness approach to cyber education and prevention. These communities consist of small businesses, organizations, non-profits, local government, banks, hospitals, schools, churches, individuals and other entities.
“We recognize that a better prepared workforce, with technical and non-technical backgrounds, need to be trained in cybersecurity. But for a whole community approach to cybersecurity to be truly effective, we need to engage each individual—from elementary school to your place of business—to prevent cyberattacks,” added White. “At the CIAS, we value risk management and mitigation training as well as prevention.”
The CIAS conducted its first citywide tabletop exercise in San Antonio in 2002 and has been delivering high-quality, high-impact cybersecurity training courses, seminars and workshops nationwide since 2004.
At the same time, the CIAS has been recognized for its global cyber defense competition efforts and K-12 cybersecurity education program, which includes the popular Cyber Threat Defender card game, to build a pipeline of cybersecurity professionals and create effective cyber hygiene among students nationwide.
“For more than 16 years, the CIAS has been a pioneer and global leader in cybersecurity competitions,” White said. “We launched the Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition in 2005 and partnered with the U.S. Air Force in 2009 to develop the CyberPatriot program. These competitions teach students, as early as middle school, about the real-world applications of cyber defense and the skills they need to succeed as cybersecurity professionals.”
The CIAS is now working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to conduct a two-year pilot program that helps states, local, tribal and territorial government organizations (SLTTs) identify their high value assets in order to prioritize resources and planning. During this pilot, UTSA will be working with the agency to develop scalable guidelines, templates and tools that can be used to facilitate implementation of identified processes within the context of each community’s risk management framework, available resources and authorities.
“We’ve come back to our roots,” White said. “Twenty years ago, UTSA created our center to advance cybersecurity capabilities and we saw that the weak links in the nation’s security were the SLTTs. We now have this amazing opportunity to use 20 years of research, training and experience to help SLTTs become more cyber resilient. I couldn’t be prouder of the CIAS team and the role they play in helping to improve the nation’s cybersecurity posture.”
UTSA is the nation’s only Hispanic Serving Institution with three Center of Excellence designations from the Department of Homeland Security and National Security Agency.
To look back at the research and programs developed by the CIAS to enhance the nation’s cybersecurity posture, view the CIAS’ 20th Anniversary Report.
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