Last December, Vance Brown looked back on what he called a year of “incredible momentum” for cybersecurity in Colorado Springs, and for the National Cybersecurity Center itself.

Now, taking stock of 2019, the NCC’s CEO says he had no idea where that momentum would lead.

“I’m an optimist, so when I say, ‘We’re gaining momentum,’ I don’t know what that looks like. You have a feeling but you don’t know what that entails until the reality sets in,” Brown said.

“The reality of momentum was bigger than I thought it would be, in terms of the honor of it — and certainly the weight of the responsibility. It’s a big deal.”

He’s talking, mostly, about Space ISAC. In April, the Business Journal reported that the space industry’s first information sharing and analysis center would be based at the NCC.

The nonprofit Space ISAC aims to boost the nation’s ability to prepare for and respond to vulnerabilities, incidents and threats.

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“We were named by the White House as the operational arm for the Space ISAC — a year and a half ago we had no [idea] we’d be involved in something of that national and global importance,” Brown said. “That’s been a big deal — not only for us, but this community and nationally — to have something like that, where our government’s considering space and space assets now more of a critical infrastructure.

“Compared to a year and a half ago — well, you can’t compare. I think we had a vision then, but that vision’s crystallized even more in terms of who we are, based upon some of these things like the Space ISAC.”

Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Booz Allen Hamilton, MITRE, SES, Lockheed Martin and Parsons Corporation have joined Space ISAC as founding members.

National Cybersecurity Center CEO Vance Brown and COO Jonathan Steenland at the 35th Space Symposium, after the unveiling of the nation’s first Space ISAC.

That industry response to Space ISAC’s mission shows cybersecurity in space “is so big that the private sector can’t just say, ‘Hey government, you go make this right; you go make sure we’re protected,’” Brown said.

“I think it’s a realization that is much bigger than any of the pieces — and it’s going to take all of us working together. I think it’s the first time in human history that our ‘protection of our country’ — we just don’t feel we can delegate it. … Everybody has a role to play.

“To see government recognize that, to see traditional DoD and the commercial side embrace that — and then to choose us as the operational arm Space ISAC — it’s just such a big deal. When I said ‘momentum,’ I didn’t know the weight of that.”

Space ISAC’s a big feather in the NCC’s cap, but 2019 held much more.

The NCC continued investigating how blockchain can help secure elections and potentially make widespread mobile voting a reality. In August, the NCC worked with the Denver Elections Division on a third-party security audit of mobile voting in two Denver municipal elections, which showed that votes cast over the blockchain were recorded and tabulated accurately.

“After 2016 we all realized that maybe the biggest threat to our democracy was a cyber threat,” Brown said. “Certainly, the Russians’ goal was to undermine the system so that we don’t have confidence in it. So the success here is that the NCC is not there to mandate or recommend a particular technology — but there needs to be a trusted third party that can go in and do some testing, set up some pilots, so that we can ask the appropriate questions.”

Brown also touted NCC’s workforce development efforts in the K-12 sector.

“We had over 500 kids come through cyber camps last summer; we were just named a CyberPatriot Center of Excellence — and there’s only about [16] of those in the country; and as far as a pilot program for our Career and Technology Student Organization, we’ve made amazing progress there,” he said. “Along with our partnership with CyberPatriot, we hope to really be able to take that national in 2020.”

In June, the NCC also completed the $1.668 million renovation of 12,000 feet of space in its sprawling facility on North Nevada — space it shares with tech accelerator Exponential Impact and UCCS. The space is now the XI Venture Center,  Exponential Impact’s “home base,” and Brown said it’s already making a difference.

“I think once that [renovation] occurred it put this stake in the ground because if we hadn’t pulled that off, we wouldn’t have had those three pillars of the cybersecurity ecosystem all housed together — the university, the accelerator and NCC. Having us all housed together, the synergy that happens when people are in the same space is amazing.”

CYBER AT UCCS

In 2018, Colorado Senate Bill 18-086 injected much-needed public funding for cybersecurity, allocating $2.8 million in annual funding to UCCS, $1 million of which is earmarked each year for the NCC.

For FY 2019, UCCS directed its $1.8 million share toward workforce development, research and development, and law enforcement support, said Richard White, interim director of cybersecurity programs.

In workforce development, “strategic investments will produce bigger and better programs with more student opportunities,” White said. Three tenured professors were hired in FY 2019, and 448 scholarships worth a total of $585,475 were funded.

In blockchain research, UCCS contracted BlockFrame Inc. to help resolve scalability issues for high-volume distributed ledger transactions, which could potentially avert public data breaches.

And to support efforts to protect against and investigate cybercrime, UCCS’ Public Safety Initiative directed more than $148,000 to local cybercrime investigative units. The funding went to upgrade the digital forensic labs of state and local law enforcement agencies — including the Colorado Springs Police Department — with forensic and cyber-related hardware and software. It also brought digital forensics training to 16 area law enforcement agencies, to help them better investigate criminal transactions, financial crimes and internet crimes against children.

SB18-086 funds were programmed for all three years (finishing with FY 2021), and White said UCCS is now applying for more funding opportunities to help expand cybersecurity programs and strengthen the cybersecurity ecosystem.

An early success: In June, UCCS was awarded a five-year, $3.08 million cybersecurity Scholarship for Service grant from the National Science Foundation — the first in Colorado.