Clemson Computing Information Technology

Students will gain cybersecurity skills in new Clemson center


It’s nearly impossible to watch the news or read the front page without seeing a story about cybersecurity. Hacking, data breaches and constant threats to networks and services have created a need for trained experts in a rapidly growing field, and Clemson University’s new Cybersecurity Operations Center (CSOC) in Barre Hall will help create the cybersecurity professionals of the future.

“Clemson has quite a bit of expertise in cybersecurity and we thought of having a ‘living laboratory’ that could be both functional — maintaining the overall integrity of the electronic security of the institution — and serving other purposes like education, training and research,” said Chief Information Officer Jim Bottum.

John Hoyt points out some of the center’s network security features to Zach Whitworth, Grant Adams and Carson Sallis.
John Hoyt points out some of the center’s network security features to Zach Whitworth, Grant Adams and Carson Sallis.

Spanning nearly 600 square feet on Barre Hall’s second floor, the CSOC serves as a command center where student interns can work with Clemson’s IT security professionals to monitor activity on Clemson’s network, perform forensic investigations on past events and create predictive analyses. A wall of monitors allows students to share their work as they cooperate as teams, gaining real-world experience using industry standards, practices and tools.

Clemson Chief Information Security Officer Kevin McKenzie sees the CSOC as a key piece of Clemson’s cybersecurity portfolio featuring a learning component that will pay off in more ways than one.

“The idea is that they’re [the students] in one place, they’re focused on cybersecurity and dealing with cybersecurity problems,” said McKenzie. “What students will get out of it is practical application for everything that they’ve learned in theory, and they’ll get to do it in a production environment.”

Born out of discussions with industry professionals about a need for qualified cybersecurity graduates, the CSOC aims to fill that gap with students from all backgrounds while strengthening Clemson’s own information security.

“The industry itself across the board is experiencing basically zero unemployment,” said McKenzie. “If you have skills in cybersecurity and you have a background in something that can support that, you’re very employable. That’s really what we’re trying to do with those students here, to give them those practical skills to walk out the door with and find gainful employment outside the university after their academic career is over.”

The students McKenzie wants in the CSOC aren’t limited by field of study, either. McKenzie recently earned an appointment to the International Consortium of Minority Cybersecurity Professionals Strategic Advisory Board and, citing success in the past with students in business and management information systems backgrounds, he hopes all interested students look to the CSOC as an important resource.

“I’m a big believer in the social sciences,” said McKenzie. “Those can be very successful in security in understand the mindset of the threat actor that’s out there, helping us profile them and understanding what they might be trying to attack. So across the board, the diversity not only refers to race or gender, but I also want it in the academic side and diversity in the type of students we bring in. The more that we can have in there that work as a team and bring their own sets of skills, it’s going to be beneficial for us and for them in their experience.”

Clemson Computing and Information Technology has big hopes for the CSOC, pairing corporate partnerships and intern programs with its core mission. McKenzie pointed out that while Clemson students excel at coursework and theory, the practical experience the CSOC offers will go hand-in-hand with the Center’s industry connections.

With several years’ experience working in the center, students would stand above competitors in the job market and have a head start in their internships, allowing companies to skip introductory-level work and make their time a win-win for both groups. CSOC experience may even allow students to acquire professional certifications and boost their resumes even further.

Bottum added that the CSOC aims to attract funding for internships as well as cutting-edge research in the future. In addition to new technologies like social media listening and the center’s emphasis on hands-on experience, he believes that Clemson has created an important and useful tool in the cybersecurity field.

“It’s a practical, operational environment which they wouldn’t have otherwise. They’re able to not just theorize about if something would work or not, but actually test and evaluate it in a real-world, operational environment,” Bottum said. “I really believe that competitive universities of the future will be closely aligned with real-world needs.”