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SPC moves ahead in cybersecurity studies

The college will create a national center for teaching, and learning, computer security.

Published June 4, 2006

In cyberspace there are pedophiles trolling the Internet, computer hackers exploiting vulnerabilities in banking networks, terrorists plotting to steal secret intelligence - and experts trying to understand their high-tech moves.

The Defense Department has given St. Petersburg College $800,000 to create the National Center for Cybersecurity Education, a training hub for students, faculty members, law enforcement investigators and state and federal agencies looking to combat computer crime.

St. Petersburg College administrators call it the first of its kind in the Southeast.

Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, lobbied for the funding from last year's defense appropriations bill. The potential for counterterrorism persuaded him and others to support the center, he said.

"Today's world being so heavily reliant on computers and technology, and computer information and communications, there is a threat from people who might be able to get into those systems," Young said Thursday. "Cybersecurity has become a very big issue, especially in our national security effort. We don't want terrorists to break into our cybercommunications.''

Much of the funding will be used to develop online courses in topics ranging from identity theft prevention to network security and fire walls, said Carol Copenhaver, the college's senior vice president for academic and student services.

The courses will first be offered this fall to the Treasury Department, which will share the curriculum with financial institutions across the country.

Students and other community colleges are expected to have access to the courses by December. The new center will be located at the college's EpiCenter on 58th Street N in Largo, which already features an "ethical hacking lab'' that trains people to recognize cybersnoops.

The college also received a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to help revamp existing certificate programs in cybersecurity and computer crime investigation. College officials hope to have a bachelor's degree program in cybersecurity ready for students as early as spring.

"It is another step in the evolution of the college,'' said Copenhaver, recalling when SPC was strictly a junior college.

"Not only do we have our four-year degrees, we have a lot of technical degrees and getting into these specialized areas.''

Paul E. Harris, the college's director of information technology security education, said the recent Veterans Affairs Department debacle in which the personal data of 26.5-million veterans was stolen shows why government agencies and regular people with laptops and home PCs need to step up their knowledge.

"I know the liability we face if we don't secure our information technology,'' said Harris, a former detective for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "There are pedophiles going after our children on the Internet. Fraud. Hacking.''

[Last modified June 4, 2006, 10:46:10]

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