Eastern Edge Focuses on Cybersecurity and EWU’s Growing Program

March 14, 2022
Cyber panel presenting at Eastern Edge Event.

Experts in the growing and important field of cybersecurity gathered for Eastern Washington University’s latest Eastern Edge forum in downtown Spokane.

About 150 alumni and business leaders filled a ballroom at the DoubleTree hotel on March 11 to listen to industry experts talk about cybersecurity – ransomware, phishing attacks and data breaches – all topics that keep many a business owner awake at night.

There has been a shift in cyberattack targets away from large industry: it’s estimated that more than 40 percent of small businesses experienced a cyberattack in the last 12 months.

EWU’s David Bowman, PhD, dean of the college of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, used the event to announce that EWU is receiving $2.8 million in extra funding from the legislature to go toward two new cybersecurity degrees and a professional cyber operations master’s degree.

“These programs will enable EWU to educate an additional more than 20 students, each year,” Bowman said. “This will help fill the workforce pipeline.”

The cybersecurity panel included:

  • Samantha Agather, ’18, an incident response analyst with Torchlight who provides triage after a company has been hacked.
  • Kris Bliesner, ’98, co-foudner and CEO of Vega Cloud, a software provider that helps businesses manage their public cloud services in a secure manner.
  • Dan Wordell, information security officer for the City of Spokane, and the man in charge of properly protecting the city’s information technology and infra structure.
  • Lt. Col. Benjamin Van Meter, who is the EWU Military Science Department chair and has spent 18 years as an U.S. Army IT/cybersecurity officer, including work on IT systems in Europe and the Middle East.
  • Vernice Keyes, class of 2022 and a cybersecurity student who is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

All agreed that cybersecurity continues to be a rapidly growing field, where the bad guys often have better technology and are miles ahead of current defensive computer strategies.

“You protected yourself yesterday, now I’m asking you to do the same great job today,” Wordell said, adding that the biggest challenge is the rapidly changing threat landscape.

Agather said cybersecurity is a difficult field to access for recent graduates, but that most cyber companies can teach the right candidate the technical side of a cybersecurity job. “Soft skills are undervalued in this industry. For instance, you must have actual communication skills to make it,” Agather said. “Right now we have a surplus of jobs and a shortage of workers.”

EWU student Keyes said she happened across the cybersecurity field but was quickly hooked. “I feel like cybersecurity often is the last thing on everybody’s mind,” she said.

During the lively presentation and Q&A session the panel provided good advice for business owners – such as tripling their cybersecurity budget, establishing a culture of vigilance among all employees, creating a response and recovery plan, and utilizing the latest multi-factor authentication software.

Assistant Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Stu Steiner, PhD, moderated the panel discussion.

“I am so very proud of what our students are doing in and out of the classroom,” Steiner said.

Bowman ended the program by saying EWU is ready to play its role in cybersecurity education.

“It is vital that we prepare our workforce to support critical infrastructure and the broader community against cyberattacks,” Bowman said. “That’s why EWU is committed to growing our cybersecurity program.”