The CI-SOC was originally created for the College’s students to receive real-world training on cybersecurity scenarios before entering the workforce. That idea quickly evolved when NBCC realized the centre could also address a gap in the Canadian curriculum surrounding cybersecurity for K-12 students. While technology is increasingly being incorporated into classroom teaching, students aren’t taught how Canada’s industries operate, what cyber threats they face, or how to remedy these attacks when they do strike.
McHarg shared his experience of talking about cybersecurity with school kids, “Kids are exposed to professions like doctor and nurse all the time, so they know what those are. But when you ask them what a cybersecurity professional does they draw a blank. Understanding there are systems that get clean drinking water to their tap, or turn their lights on and off that can potentially be attacked makes it less abstract. We’ve developed a hands-on, exercise-based approach where they can initiate an attack and watch what happens by monitoring screens and watching for the alerts that come up because of the command they issued. They can push buttons and break things, and then fix them. At CI-SOC they can connect the physical world and the virtual world of cybersecurity all in one room.”
McHarg noted that before the CI-SOC, no other resource existed to help public high school students visualize or understand just how this all worked in a controlled setting. “We’re showing students what’s involved in protecting our critical infrastructure, and helping them see it’s a real career opportunity. Even students who took on extra work volunteering to help us build the centre when it started found that they were able to land some pretty demanding cybersecurity roles right out of school. Through their participation, they gained exposure to the field and it made them that much more employable. So the CI-SOC really has the potential to make an important contribution to the development of Canada’s cybersecurity workforce.”
CIRA’s grant to NBCC is just the beginning. Henwood refers to it as instrumental. “We wouldn’t have been able to build it without CIRA. The bulk of the CIRA funding went to the physical setup—equipment, monitoring software and tools, each of the industrial control units we have on site.” In addition, Henwood notes that CIRA’s startup funds have enabled NBCC to attract even more support, notably from the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation. “We’ve secured support for a dedicated research professional in cybersecurity to work with Ben and the other faculty and students on industry and community projects, and the lab CIRA funded was key to the success of the proposal.”
What do McHarg and Henwood see on the horizon? They’re already thinking about expansion, of course. “The biggest value for the investment will be to get a few more industrial simulations in place in the centre, Mcharg said. “We want to grow the physical equipment in the room—five or six installations would be optimal. We also have our eyes on 5G tech and industrial IoT, that’s a real emerging area. As soon as we start building these additional test beds, we’ll use and leverage the CI-SOC to monitor this as part of the industrial environment.”