Virginia’s ambitious plan to bring together its best talents to bolster the nation’s cybersecurity now has a structure for success in place.

On Tuesday, the Virginia Research Investment Committee certified the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative’s (CCI) statewide network, which will fuse the individual strengths of state institutions of higher education, industry, and government into a unified force to develop the technologies and train the talent to thwart cybercrimes of today and of the future.

“CCI is here to differentiate Virginia as a leader in cybersecurity education, research, and business startups – especially commercial startups,” said Jeff Reed, interim executive director of the program. “Today we are at a major milestone … The establishment of nodes in the network is critical to building the collaborative culture that CCI demands.”

Divided into four regional, university-led nodes and coordinated by a hub in Northern Virginia, CCI’s network engages 320 faculty members across 39 higher education institutions, as well as 65 private companies, four federal partners, and 45 other regional partners. It will provide the connective platform necessary for both programs and people to work together to position Virginia as a leader where cybersecurity meets data analytics, machine learning, and autonomous systems.

The committee has established a working group to assist in the planning and implementation of the now-certified nodes with the existing hub. Working in sync, the effort will provide the type of network called for in the 2018-20 Virginia budget, which will invest $20 million annually from 2020 and beyond toward creating an ecosystem to generate cyber-related research, education, and statewide engagement with both higher education institutions and industry.

Since CCI's inception, Virginia Tech has been called on by the commonwealth to serve as an anchoring collaborator throughout the visionary and implementation process. The university has committed a total of $1.4 million throughout 2018 and 2019 and expects to invest another $2 million in 2020, while also covering CCI’s central administrative functions, such as payroll and procurement.

“This is an important and exciting project for the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Tech is deeply engaged and views its collaborative role as both a privilege and a responsibility,” said Cyril Clarke, Virginia Tech executive vice president and provost. “We are invested in the entire effort, but we cannot do it alone. Partnerships among institutions, nodes, and at the hub are critical to our joint success.”

Jeffrey H. Reed, the Willis G. Worcester Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering and founding director of Wireless@VT, stepped in as interim executive director of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative in May.

Jeffrey Reed
Jeffrey H. Reed, the Willis G. Worcester Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the College of Engineering and founding director of Wireless@VT, stepped in as interim executive director of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative in May.

Such teamwork was also an emphasis for Reed, who presented to the Virginia Research Investment Committee for the first time since taking the interim executive director role in May. Reed said he’d spent much of the last month traveling the state to brainstorm with those involved and has been inspired by their enthusiasm for this opportunity. He said the program will immediately capitalize on that momentum by establishing two critical platforms from which all partners will benefit –  the CCI Fellows Program and a 5G test bed.

The fellows program will provide select faculty across the network the opportunity and resources to engage in research and program development in a way that multiplies their outputs through a joint effort.

“The CCI Fellows Program will allow us to build a collaborative cohort of faculty and their students,” Reed said. “Faculty and leadership at the potential nodes are enthusiastic about this program.”

At scale, the program will include about 20 faculty members who will spend varying amounts of time each year working together at the CCI hub and at other nodes. The platform will create technical alignment that will extend to the fellows’ home institutions and provide nodes with unified access to the innovation ecosystem of the Northern Virginia region.

“We expect that this will greatly reduce boundaries to collaboration,” Reed said.

Such teamwork will also be a hallmark of the development and utilization of CCI’s 5G test bed, which will provide Virginia a unique tool in crafting our nation’s security in wireless communication.

“Major security issues exist within 5G, and IoT [the internet of things] specifically,” said Reed, who is the Willis G. Worcester Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. “There is big money coming to address these security issues, and the test bed will give Virginia the edge in pursuing these opportunities and will build upon our current strengths in security and wireless.”

As a shared resource, the 5G test bed will be a playground for developing and demonstrating cybersecurity technologies and solutions. It will attract the type of industry and government interests that will expedite the commercialization of technology and get out in front of potential security threats.  

With the nodes certified, CCI will spend the coming months working with the Virginia Research Investment Committee’s working group, regional leaders, and the broader network community to build relationships and develop each node’s strategic plan.

The group will also continue the international search to recruit its inaugural executive director, which includes stakeholders from across the commonwealth who helped develop the CCI blueprint.