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U.S. Cyber Chief Previews National Cyber Education Strategy

Alex Kasten
By Alex Kasten
  • News |
  • Cybersecurity

A national cyber workforce and education strategy will seek to raise digital literacy within the general population, recalibrate government engagement with higher education, and leverage federal agencies to build cyber labor talent, Kemba Walden, acting national cyber director of the United States, told participants at a webinar sponsored by University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC).

The May 24 webinar, hosted by UMGC’s Center for Security Studies, reinforced the university’s commitment to preparing professionals for an ever-changing cybersecurity landscape. Kemba’s remarks at the gathering offered a preview of the nation’s workforce and education strategy, which will be rolled out in the fall of 2023. 

“We really need to start thinking from kindergarten through to secondary education and all the way through college,” said Walden. “We also need to think beyond the traditional education pipeline and ask how we can educate the broader community.

“Everybody has the responsibility of securing cyberspace,” she added. “The biggest responsibility should be on those that are most capable of handling it.”

Walden called for treating digital literacy as a goal for everybody. “Broadly, how are we incorporating cyber skills in the same way that we incorporate literacy skills?” she asked.

As a leading name in cybersecurity education, UMGC has been designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. It has also been identified as a Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence by the DC3 Academic Cyber Curriculum Alliance.

The Center for Security Studies’ event was moderated by Shalon Simmons, program director for UMGC Cybersecurity Management & Policy, Information Assurance, & Undergraduate Cybersecurity Technology. Simmons was assisted by Dr. Rudy Watson, department chair of Business Management at the School of Business, and Dr. Loyce Pailen, director of the Center for Security Studies.

During her comments, Walden discussed the Biden-Harris administration’s National Cyber Strategy released by the White House in March, as well as her role in implementing it. She noted that the strategy encompasses all federal departments and agencies that have anything to do with cyber. It also looks to civil society, academia and industry to entrench a secure and dynamic digital landscape.

“I used to be a musician, so I like to think of cybersecurity and the federal government as an orchestra and I'm the conductor,” she said. “We take a proactive approach to ensuring that everyone—individuals, small businesses, communities—can thrive and prosper in our digital ecosystem.”

And what does this digital ecosystem look like? “We want it to be defensible, we want it to be resilient and we need it to align with our values,” she responded.

Walden addressed the five pillars of the strategy, noting that the national strategy is designed to minimize the cybersecurity threat borne by individuals.

“We want to take the cybersecurity risk off the shoulders of those who are least capable of bearing that risk,” she said. “We want to shift that risk to those, including the federal government, that are more capable of bearing that risk and bringing it down.”

In addition to shifting the burden for cybersecurity away from individuals, small businesses and local governments, the national strategy calls for a balance between defending against urgent threats today and strategically planning for and investing in a resilient future.

As of 2022, according to a (ISC)2 Cybersecurity Workforce Study, the global shortage of cybersecurity professionals stood at 3.4 million. To close the cybersecurity employment gap, Walden stressed the need to examine how job requirements may be setting up unnecessary barriers.

“Do we really need PhDs in computer engineering to execute all cybersecurity functions?” she asked. Walden also challenged whether apprenticeship opportunities are being leveraged to their fullest advantage.

“We need industry to engage with universities to develop an open door between schools and job development,” she said.

Walden’s own journey in the field has been a  circuitous route. She started with a biomedical engineering major at Hampton University and now holds the country’s top cybersecurity post.

“I started as a biomedical engineering major, but ended up studying political science, mostly because I was interested in how communities connect,” she said. This pivot led Walden to a master’s degree in international development from Princeton University, which exposed her to work that focused on communities, families, and conflict resolutions. From there, she came to understand that groups and populations don’t thrive unless the people within them feel safe.

These macro analog and digital security concerns led to Georgetown University, a law degree and a career in the security space.

Walden explained that the goal of the Office of the National Cyber Director is twofold: to provide cybersecurity advice to the president and the national security staff in general and to establish a durable presence in the White House focused squarely on cybersecurity.

“Activities include driving federal cohesion among all the departments and agencies on cybersecurity,” said Walden. “We also need to make sure that our critical infrastructure is protected and that we are collaborating effectively with the private sector.”