Academic Conference Explores Future of Cybersecurity and Opportunities for Virginia Tech Students

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The next generation of national security leaders received a powerful charge from a leader in the field at the Inn at Virginia Tech on April 18.

“You live in exponential times.   If we’re going to defend our country, we need to change and grow with cybersecurity,” said Gen. Keith Alexander [Ret.], former director of the National Security Agency [NSA].

“We are an innovation nation and you are the future.   You are the catalyst for all the change that will go on.   You have a tremendous opportunity,” Alexander said.

A four-star general with an impressive 40-year military career, Alexander led the NSA and served as chief of the Central Security Service from 2005-14.   He holds the distinction of serving in this role longer than any other director.

While serving as the NSA director, Alexander was appointed by Congress to serve as the first commander to lead the U.S. Cyber command.   Currently, he is the CEO and president of IronNet Cybersecurity.

Sponsored in large part by the Science Applications International Corporation and supported by the ISDA stakeholders and industry partners of the Hume Center, this year’s colloquium was the first held as a joint effort between the ISDA and the Hume Center.

The combined effort resulted in a record number of attendees, including close to 200 students, who are the focus of the event, said Kira Gantt, the Hume Center’s associate director of education and outreach and ISDA program manager.

The day included panels featuring national and cybersecurity experts form the private sector, government, and academia, as well as student presentations and a handful of important breaks for networking.

“We specifically put in those breaks and don’t cut them short so that students can interact with potential employers and learn a little bit about the intelligence community and about cybersecurity in general,” Gantt said.  “It’s not just about getting a job, sometimes it’s about just getting information.”

Students like senior Helen Huavil from Culpepper, Virginia, made the most of the opportunity to talk with the professionals.

“Cybersecurity is one of my big interests, and you don’t get to speak too often to that many people with the background and knowledge they have,” said Huavil, a double major in computer engineering and computer science in the College of Engineering.

For sophomore computer science major Kevin Orozco, spending time listening to and talking with the experts helped develop a future focus.

“They helped me realize that I want to do more in technological development.   They really helped me decide that’s what I want to do with my future,” said Orozco, from Centreville, Virginia.

The event concluded with a two-hour poster display of more than 50 graduate and undergraduate security-related projects, followed by the keynote speaker.

For close to an hour, Alexander spoke to more than 200 people about the current state of global security issues, including the challenge of cybersecurity, where he believes the threats are headed, and the unique defense challenges imposed by the rapidly expanding information age facing these future leaders.

“It’s going to impact you more than any other generation that proceeds you.   And the reason is.. the amount of unique information that’s being created this year is more than the last 5,000 years combined,” Alexander said.  “That’s what you’re facing.. You have all this great information coming in that you’re going to have to put together on the fly to save lives.”

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