The 2018-20 Virginia budget signed by Gov. Ralph Northam today includes $25 million for the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative that will leverage public institutions of higher education to build an ecosystem of cyber-related research, education, and engagement to position Virginia as a world leader in cybersecurity at the confluence with data analytics, machine learning, and autonomous systems.

The initiative calls for a primary “hub” to be located in Northern Virginia and a network of “spoke” sites across the commonwealth with collaborating universities in Virginia and industry partners that will catalyze research, innovation, and the commercialization of cybersecurity technologies and address the state’s need for growth of advanced degrees and professional training within the cyber workforce.

The state has asked Virginia Tech to lead this initiative because of its widely recognized strengths in science and engineering, existing expertise in cybersecurity research and education, and its significant research presence in Northern Virginia.

The university will build upon and broaden the work of its Hume Center for National Security and Technology, which focuses on developing a national security workforce and the research challenges of cybersecurity, information systems, and autonomy. The Hume Center’s 80 faculty engage more than 400 students per year in research and experiential learning programs. Since 2012, Hume Center faculty have spun off eight venture-backed startups that have raised more than $120 million in capital.

In addition, the hub will leverage Virginia Tech’s Discovery Analytics Center and Biocomplexity Institute, bringing together computer scientists, engineers, and statisticians to meet the research and talent needs of a data-intensive world, as well as the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, the second-largest university transportation institute in the country, to conduct research that shapes business practices and policy.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to anchor the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative with this support from the state, along with the collaboration with the Virginia Research Investment Committee and our partner institutions of higher education in Virginia,” said Virginia Tech President Tim Sands.

“The $25 million from the state will catalyze what we envision will become a much larger project that will connect industry, innovators, government, and higher education. Partnerships, research funding, and philanthropy, along with the state resources, will expand the pool of talent and grow the Virginia economy at the confluence of data, security, and autonomy,” he said.

“Given the ever-growing cyberthreat, Virginia’s innovative technology sector, and strong research institutions in higher education, it makes perfect sense for the commonwealth to seed a significant cyber research and workforce initiative,” said Del. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

“Led by Virginia Tech, and in coordination and collaboration with other higher education research institutions and industry around the state, the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative will help fill the tens of thousands of open cyber jobs in Virginia, spur the development of new real-world offensive and defensive cyber technologies, and help diversify our economy,” said Jones.

Cybercrime is considered the greatest threat to doing business for companies in the United States, according to the World Economic Forum. In 2016, 15.4 million victims of identity theft were reported in the United States, a 16 percent increase from 2015. By 2020, it is estimated that there will be 50 billion connected devices and that by 2021, $6 trillion will be lost per year to cybercrime, the largest and fastest growing criminal enterprise.

Currently, it is estimated more than 33,000 cybersecurity jobs in Virginia remain unfilled.

As the lead organization of this initiative, Virginia Tech will issue a report to the General Assembly by December 1 to outline how the program will work and what the next steps will be.  Virginia Tech will receive up to $10 million over the next two years to launch the hub, including funds for facilities, equipment, student engagement, entrepreneurship programs and internships, and research faculty.

An additional $10 million will be available to universities across the state to apply for matching funds to recruit innovative, entrepreneurial faculty to Virginia, as the initiative helps build capabilities at the hub and various spokes across the commonwealth. In addition, $5 million in capital funding will be used for renovations, space enhancements, and equipment.

Virginia Tech plans to scale and broaden its work at the intersection of cybersecurity, data analytics, and autonomous systems and will continue to assemble world-class research talent in Northern Virginia.