Cybersecurity is shifting up a gear in 2020, with the National Cybersecurity Center and UCCS tapping funding and momentum to spur growth.

UCCS is pushing to expand cybersecurity programs; providing cybersecurity training and artificial intelligence for law enforcement; applying for a $1.2 million Minerva grant; and consulting with the NCC on plans for a cyber vulnerability lab.

On the NCC’s agenda: spearheading a collaborative effort to use blockchain technology for secure elections via a mobile voting app; serving as the operational arm for the nation’s only space information sharing and analysis center; and, with UCCS, applying for a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to build out about 40,000 square feet of additional space.

It’s almost two years since the NCC moved into its sprawling facility at 3650 N. Nevada Ave., and CEO Vance Brown says it’s easy to forget how long the 501(c)3 nonprofit struggled for money and staff.

The National Cybersecurity Center was mandated by the state in 2016, he said, “but it was never really properly funded.” It relied on the private sector until then-Governor John Hickenlooper signed the bipartisan Senate Bill 086 into law in May 2018.

“SB-086 marked the realization that it has to be public-private — it’s got to be that partnership,” Brown said. “Historically, we really never had the resources. Think about it: A year, year and a half ago, we had four people at NCC, and one of those was part time. I mean, how can you take on something like [cybersecurity] with that kind of funding?

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“I think there was a lot of disappointment — like, ‘What is NCC doing? What’s going on?’ — without a realization that there wasn’t funding for this level of initiative.”

Brown understood the initial disappointment. But now a realization has dawned across the community, he says, “when they’re seeing that we just leapfrogged so much in terms of what we’ve accomplished this past year.

“But you’ve got to have people to do that,” he added, “and you’ve got to therefore have the funding for the people. … Our momentum has become exponential because of the resources — I just can’t get over how important it was to get those resources.”

Before SB-086 started the flow of funding for Colorado’s sweeping cybersecurity plans, the NCC got pretty good at finding money elsewhere.

“A lot of these initiatives we’ve been proud of — like the election initiative — that’s been 100 percent privately funded; about a million dollars we’ve raised,” Brown said. “Not one public dollar was spent on that initiative. But you’ve got to prime the pump [with funding] to get the engine going.”

Now with a staff of 11, the NCC has “become a great convenor for big initiatives,” he said.

“The alignment this year — it’s public, private, it’s our city, it’s the county, the state, it’s federal agencies, it’s the White House … We are a leader and convener for some of these big initiatives, from education projects to workforce development and public policy influencers.”

Paving the way for major initiatives, not least of all the Space ISAC, means expansion — and more funding for that expansion.

That’s where the planned 40,000-square-foot buildout and the EDA grant proposal come in. UCCS and the NCC developed the proposal together, which seeks close to $3 million (and requires grantees to raise matching funds, for a total of $5.2 million).

The aim is to build offices and classrooms at the North Nevada Avenue cybersecurity facility, said Richard White, interim director of cybersecurity programs at UCCS, along with a Cyber Vulnerability Lab and a Watch Center that will be part of the Space ISAC.

UCCS has other efforts underway — many made possible by the public funding allocated by SB18-086 ($2.8 million annually to UCCS, $1 million of which is earmarked each year for the NCC).

“We hope to see more seeds start bearing fruit for all the initiatives begun with the benefit of the state grant,” White said.

To prevent and investigate cybercrime, UCCS’ Public Safety Initiative is directing $109,180 to local law enforcement agencies for FY 2020. The university is also working on a grant proposal to bring expertise in computer vision and AI to investigations in Internet Crimes Against Children.

UCCS has submitted a $212,183 proposal to host fifteen four-day cybersecurity camps for 300 middle school children over three years, as part of its participation with the Economic Development Council Cybersecurity Coordinating Committee, and is applying for additional funding opportunities “to help expand cybersecurity programs and also strengthen the cybersecurity ecosystem,” White said.

The university also expects to learn from the Department of Defense this month whether its $1.2 million proposal for a Minerva Research Initiative grant is successful. White said the proposal, which aims to develop artificial intelligence support for a cybersecurity intrusion detection system, “could change the course of cybersecurity.”