Hofstra flips switch on next-level cybersecurity center

War footing: The "war room" inside Hofstra's new Cybersecurity Innovation and Research Center, ready for action.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

With cybercrime on the rise, Hofstra University students will join the fight – and the future cybersecurity workforce.

On Tuesday, smack-dab in the middle of National Cybersecurity Career Awareness Week, inside its C.V. Starr Hall, the Hempstead-based university cut the ribbon on its state-of-the-art Cybersecurity Innovation and Research Center, an interdisciplinary mecca of cutting-edge digital tools designed to simulate “hyper-realistic cyberattack scenarios” and train students to detect and defeat them.

It’s an urgent calling: The global cost of cybercrime will surpass $6 trillion in 2021, according to Cybercrime Magazine, a product of Northport-based researcher Cybersecurity Ventures, which also projects 3.5 million unfilled U.S. cybersecurity jobs within two years.

To help meet that demand, Hofstra has also rolled out a new cybersecurity master’s degree program – with concentrations in technology and management/policy – to complement the university’s existing cybersecurity degree programs.

Students in those and other science and engineering courses are sure to make generous use of the 1,000-square-foot CIRC, which includes 36 computers, a dedicated server room, drones, augmented- and virtual-reality gear and multiple live status boards, installed to help students manage center operations and promote information-sharing.

Now you see it: Virtual- and augment-reality technologies play a big part in the CIRC.

The center also boasts an AI-powered cybersecurity learning platform, testing software designed to sniff out computer-network vulnerabilities, data-protection software used by U.S. law enforcement and military agencies and top-level cryptology software that’s expert at digging out even deeper threats, among other next-gen tools.

Lamenting “an existential threat with staggering global economic and security implications,” Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz trumpeted the tech-stocked center as a vital weapon in the war against cybercrime.

“Working in partnership with the State of New York, we have created a center that will train a new generation of cybersecurity experts who can stay ahead of increasingly sophisticated hackers and safeguard the information and technology that power our economy,” Rabinowitz added.

The Empire State Development Corp. contributed a $200,000 capital grant, through the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, to the $1.35 million project – money well spent, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who noted Tuesday that “our economy is more reliant on technology than ever before.”

Stuart Rabinowitz: Taking the fight to an “existential threat.”

“We must ensure New York has the resources to defend against cyberattacks,” the governor said in a statement. “This new research center will teach the next generation of New Yorkers how to counter these emerging threats, while preparing our entire state to handle the cybersecurity challenges of the future.”

The CIRC is one of the only academic “war rooms” in the state featuring a “cyber range” – an immersive, virtual experience that “replicates the high-pressure environment of an attack,” according to Hofstra, and challenges students to respond in real time, from detection to response to recovery.

It’s also built specifically to centralize simpatico security efforts among industry, government and academia – thereby advancing both the art of cyberthreat analysis and Hofstra’s longstanding economic-development mission, according to Donald Schaeffer, chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees.

“Hofstra University has long believed that taking a leadership role on the critical challenges that face our region … is an essential part of our mission,” Schaeffer noted. “This center will serve as a resource not just for our students, but for the local institutions, public and private, that are the foundation of the surrounding communities.”

And that actually goes beyond the purview of cybersecurity, according to Janet Lenaghan, dean of Hofstra’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business. As a joint project of the Zarb School and the university’s Fred DeMatteis School of Engineering and Applied Science, the CIRC breaks down certain barriers, Lenaghan noted, even as it reinforces others.

“One of the most important aspects of this center, and of our new degree program, is the interdisciplinary approach,” the dean said. “Cybersecurity doesn’t exist in a silo – it requires an understanding of technology, law and public policy, as well as C-suite-level strategic thinking and leadership skills.”