As industries increasingly go digital, it presents the reality that the technology used to make work more efficient could also face cyber threats. That’s true of manufacturing, where sensors and artificial intelligence are increasingly playing a role.
“That’s the future of manufacturing,” said Dr. Nilanjan Banerjee, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at UMBC. “Unfortunately what that also means is it opens up the manufacturing ecosystem and the supply chain to various cyber threats.”
Manufacturing, alongside industries like healthcare and banking, has been affected by some of the most notorious ransomware attacks of recent years. Equally, the systems that run shop floors and the IP present in designs for products are required create inviting targets for attackers. Banerjee cited one example of an attack where an attacker could shut down a plant, or begin making faulty parts.
The threats have resulted in calls for workers receive more training in cybersecurity, just as they are trained for work in the field and in how to use new technology.
UMBC is teaming with national digital manufacturing institute MxD to work to provide one such answer to that call in the form of a new training program that will specifically focus on workers in manufacturing and adjacent industries.
For seed funding, the collaborators received a $650,000 from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA). Launching the program is a team effort, said Banerjee: MxD is designated by the DoD as the national center of cybersecurity in manufacturing, and brings domain knowledge and expertise through its workforce development arm, MxD Learn. UMBC, which has long had a strength in cybersecurity education, is bringing academic prowess. From UMBC, Executive Director of Cyber Initiatives Donna Ruginski and Dr. Keith Bowman, who is dean of the College of Engineering and Information Technology, played key roles.
The collaborators are initially working together to develop a curriculum that will be used as a basis for web-based courses on cybersecurity fundamentals, and an in-person element at Columbia-based UMBC Training Centers is being planned for the beginning of 2021. Banerjee said the course will be tailored to specific gaps. An initial cohort of trainees which will be identified by MxD via industry partnerships, will take the courses and provide evaluation. A second phase can also include more hands-on training, using augmented and virtual reality, Banerjee said.
The idea is that participants will come out of the program with a certification for a cybersecurity role in manufacturing. It comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is requiring more remote operations, and the economic shock is bringing an increased focus on training for the kind of jobs that will grow.
“This has the dual benefit of upskilling workers who may be sidelined during the COVID-19 crisis and increasing the security of U.S. manufacturers from cyber attacks,” Lizabeth Stuck, senior director of MxD Learn, which is the institute’s workforce development arm, said in a statement.