NCC faces new year with new plan

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With the National Cybersecurity Center, Vance Brown is on a mission to make Colorado Springs the “No. 1 cybersecurity/blockchain city in the world.”

Whether or not you said, “What’s blockchain?” is an indicator of how long that might take — but Brown, the NCC’s interim CEO, gives it about a year.

“Put a stake in the ground right here: We are going to be the most informed cybersecurity/blockchain community per capita in the world, here in Colorado Springs,” he said. “I think we’re already well on our way because the problem is: Most of the world has never heard of blockchain. If you went to Denver or anywhere else, and went to 10 random people and said, ‘Have you ever heard of blockchain?’ I think maybe one would have — probably not even that.”

Being informed about blockchain technology is essential, Brown said, because it’s the core technology that will influence cybersecurity in the future. And it’s possible, because the NCC is going to be intentional about teaching all sectors of the community, building an educated workforce and influencing public policy to keep effective cybersecurity front and center.

Blockchain, according to Harvard Business Review, is “a vast, global distributed ledger or database running on millions of devices and open to anyone, where not just information but anything of value … can be moved and stored securely and privately. On the blockchain, trust is established, not by powerful intermediaries like banks, governments and technology companies, but through mass collaboration and clever code.”

It’s a more secure environment for data and data flow, and protects information and identity better than banks.

Blockchain and artificial intelligence will be central areas of focus for the NCC, whose board adopted a new strategic plan Dec. 5.

Under the new plan, the NCC looks different from its original three-pillared model, which included a Rapid Response Center offering help after cybersecurity breaches, as well as a research center and an educational component.

The NCC is now focused on building an ecosystem of cybersecurity job creation, workforce development and public policy, “because there’s no way we can have the impact we’re trying to have by doing it alone,” Brown said.

The NCC will be “the nexus or the fulcrum — not just holding it together, but moving it forward with vision and strategy,” he added. “We don’t own it all, but we want to influence it, we want to drive it and we want to make a healthy ecosystem that’s very aligned.”

The Rapid Response Center that was once part of the NCC has been dropped, because it would compete with industry.

Trusted think tank/institute

The new aim: a trusted think tank/institute, with a membership model that keeps the NCC free from funding constraints and outside influence.

“We’re a 501(c)3 nonprofit — so think independent, objective, where there’s no piece of the system that feels competitive to anyone else,” Brown said. “The only way this works is for us to be really trusted. The organizations and the government need to [know] we’re not owned by any special interests; that we really are independent and trying to do the right thing; we’re cyber experts as far as our ecosystem; and we’re influencing it for the common good and for the good of the whole ecosystem.

“…[A]s soon as we look like we’re beholden to any special interest, I think we lose that objectivity and credibility,” he added. “So for me, job one was to get us in the black, without relying on grants.”

Brown said the NCC is “in the black right away, from a cash-flow perspective, and we’re going to be sustainable in 2018.”

Revenue will come from conferences — like the National Cyber Symposium — as well as event sponsorships, educational training and memberships: corporate, standard, and government/military.

The NCC aims to create jobs based on entrepreneurship in security technology in Colorado, and to influence public policy to address business and education needs. Part of that effort involves ensuring government and elected officials are informed and educated about cybersecurity and related technologies.

“How’s an elected official supposed to keep up with this? They’re the ones out there doing legislation, influencing public policy, but how do they know?” Brown said. “A lot of these elected officials didn’t learn this in school — and neither did I; at school this didn’t exist. So [we need] to give them the information they need to make good decisions.”

The NCC will also bring cybersecurity education to the general public. In some of the open space at the NCC’s new 135,000-square-foot facility, Brown envisions a sort of “festive, social” cyber-focused community center that welcomes adults and children, offering blockchain training, educational events, activities for school students, cyber labs and a cyber range for working on educational activities.

“By the way, the NCC is not there to offer cyber training for cyber professionals — that’s already part of the ecosystem here with UCCS and Pikes Peak [Community College] and SecureSet and these kinds of organizations,” Brown said. “We’re trying to support that but not compete with it.

“I want this to benefit …  community members that aren’t necessarily about cyber. Anybody who has an email account should be concerned about cybersecurity — cybersecurity is everywhere. The only reason you shouldn’t be concerned about cybersecurity is if you just unplug everything. Then you’re safe.

“But if you plug something in, just assume you ought to know something about this — so we want to provide that kind of education for everybody.”