How WWU is Responding to the Shortage of Qualified Cybersecurity Professionals

Alyssa Evans

Erik Fretheim stands in front of beautiful red and yellow-leaved trees in the Fall.
The rise of cyber-attacks and a heightened awareness of network vulnerability, coupled with a shortage of trained cybersecurity professionals, is creating serious consequences for individuals, corporations and government agencies seeking to protect sensitive information.

Western Washington University has responded to the need for qualified cybersecurity experts by opening its own training facility. Students from all over Washington state are able to practice cybersecurity exercises and test technologies in a controlled virtual environment at Western’s Poulsbo location. This Cyber Range is the first of its kind in Washington and one of only nine in the nation.

A cyber range is a virtual environment used for cyber-warfare training and cyber technology development. It provides tools that help strengthen the stability, security and performance of cyberinfrastructure and IT systems used by government and military agencies.

“This facility allows for cybersecurity exercises, such as penetration testing and virus dissection, to be conducted in a way where there is no risk of creating problems on the network,” said Erik Fretheim, program director for Western’s Computer Information Systems Security program.

The new facility is catching the eye of big businesses like Boeing. In July, the aircraft manufacturing company gifted  the university fifty computer servers to use in the range.  “As a large multi-national corporation, Boeing recognizes the risks in the worldwide cyber ecology and the need to help educate those who will protect us all,” commented Boeing employee Marie Deschene.

“We are continuing to work on creating partnerships between the range and private companies, that will provide resources to help students learn cybersecurity skills, while at the same time companies will benefit from the opportunity to test their equipment in a contained environment,” said Fretheim.

Cybersecurity is a growing field, with professionals in huge demand due to a projected 1.5-million trained-employee labor shortage through at least 2019, according to an industry source.

Western is making great strides in cybersecurity training, “As I discuss the Cyber Range Poulsbo with my colleagues from other schools, they quickly recognize the advantages, and that we could create a shared resource that could do far more than what any of us could create individually,” Fretheim said.

Fretheim is leading a charge to make the range not only a pillar for Kitsap County but as a resource for all colleges and universities in the state.