Kennesaw State Named Top Institution in Country for Cybersecurity Outreach

KENNESAW, Ga. | Aug 10, 2022

Kennesaw State University has been recognized by its peers as the top institution in the country for spreading cybersecurity best practices in its community, developing cybersecurity programs and faculty, and empowering students to pursue careers in the industry.

Kennesaw State University Cybersecurity

The colleges and universities that make up the National Security Agency’s National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity recently awarded Kennesaw State the 2022 First Place Outstanding Outreach Award. All 347 colleges and universities in the NCAE program were eligible for the award.

NCAE is a partnership between the NSA’s National Cryptologic School, several federal agencies including the FBI and the Department of Defense, and hundreds of institutions across the country to enhance cybersecurity education through setting curriculum standards and encouraging the adoption of security best practices. Kennesaw State has been an NCAE-designated Center of Excellence since 2004.

The University received the Outstanding Outreach Award at the NCAE’s regional annual meeting in Atlanta, where Kennesaw State earned redesignation through 2027, had the Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity program validated as an NCAE-Cyber Defense Education program of study.

“As an NCAE, there’s always the expectation that we will not only prepare students for careers in security, but that we will also contribute to the improvement of cybersecurity education within industry, the government, and the community at large,” said Michael Whitman, professor of Information Security and Assurance and executive director of Kennesaw State’s Institute for Cybersecurity Workforce Development.

The ICWD is a multidisciplinary body overseeing Kennesaw State’s online Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Cybersecurity degree programs. They also organize several outreach initiatives, including hosting an annual cybersecurity conference with students, faculty and industry partners; running faculty training workshops; publishing the Journal of Cybersecurity Education Research and Practice; and running the Southeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, where students from across the region network with peers and industry leaders while competing to defend computer networks from attack.

For Whitman, these outreach efforts – especially those involving businesses – are about educating the community on the importance of information security.

“It’s our information that cybersecurity professionals are protecting,” he said. “If we can help banks and information warehouses in the region, then it’s much better for everyone that they be on the leading edge of information security.”

The NSA award also recognized community outreach initiatives organized by the Michael J. Coles College of Business’s Department of Information Systems and Security and its related student organization, the Offensive Security Club.

One such initiative is the annual high school capture the flag competition. Open to young people from around the country, students compete virtually to demonstrate their knowledge of key information security topics ranging from programming and vocabulary to password cracking and cryptography.

“This event helps bring the idea of security to the general public’s attention,” said ISA professor Andy Green, the competition’s organizer. “I target high school students because they are at that point where they are figuring out what they want to do after they graduate. Many don’t realize until that point that security is something they can major in at college.”

In addition to the high school competition, the ISS Department partners with the ICWD on the Southeast Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, hosts an annual industry-focused cybersecurity conference called B-Sides Atlanta, and works closely with the Offensive Security Research Club to prepare for multiple competitions each year.

Meanwhile, the Offensive Security Club has made community outreach one of its main goals. Not only do students in the club make up the staff for events like the SECCDC and the high school CTF, but the organization routinely invites members of the community to attend detailed lectures on cybersecurity topics. The club also maintains a public server on the popular Discord online collaboration platform.

“We use any techniques we can to teach the student body and anyone else willing to learn about security,” said Carson Reynolds, a criminal justice major and vice president of the Offensive Security Club. “Because of the experiential activities we offer, the club’s a great gateway to introduce people to security.”

While the NSA award positions Kennesaw State University as the national leader in cybersecurity outreach, those involved in earning the award believe there is still room to grow.

“This award makes it feel like our efforts are really gaining traction,” Reynolds said. “It’s good to be recognized, but it’s important to understand that there’s always more work to be done.”

-Patrick Harbin
Photo by David Caselli

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