Cybersecurity Center original to Oshkosh

Katie Pulvermacher, News Editor

What was once the call center in the Culver Family Welcome Center, the new cybersecurity center, teaming with the Wisconsin Cyber Threat Response Alliance (WICTRA), is a great place for expanding one’s knowledge on how to counteract cyber threats and to keep one’s information safe.

Kyra Slakes / Advance-Titan
A CCOE lab provides machines and computers commonly used by cybersecurity specialists. These have different capabilities from the average computer elsewhere.

“It is going to be difficult for other places to do what we do, simply because of the resources WICTRA can provide,” UW Oshkosh Information Systems Lecturer Michael Patton said. “This partnership is absolutely critical to what we were able to do, and frankly, I don’t see how we could have done it without them.”

Patton said cybersecurity centers are not common. After working around 25 years in private industry, often centering around networking, he had to deal with people attacking their systems and learning how to counteract. A conversation with a colleague led to the connection between UWO and WICTRA, including Jerry Eastman, the founder of WICTA.

“There are people way smarter than me about cybersecurity in lots of places,” Patton said. “I do everything I can to bring them in and educate me and my students and elevate everybody.”

The first conversation Eastman and Patton had was in December of 2020, and only recently has the Cybersecurity Center of Excellence (CCOE) been running.

The cybersecurity program started in spring of 2021. To either get a cybersecurity certificate minor or emphasis within the major, three main cybersecurity courses are required.

They are working towards submitting their entire body of work to the National Security Agency (NSA) for one of their certifications to say “this is what cybersecurity education should be.” UW-Stout and UW-Whitewater already have this. UWO would become the third in the UW system to get this certification if all goes well.

The CCOE and its classes provide real-world examples one would face in daily life or at a job with the classrooms, lab and data center there.

Workstations are geared with machines commonly used by cybersecurity professionals with tools usually not found on an average computer.

“Aaron Rodgers studies the Chicago Bears defense before playing the Bears, not because he wants to be a linebacker, but because he wants to know what the Bears defense is doing so he can counteract it,” Patton said. “What we’re trying to do at the cybersecurity center is give either super highly technical users or even the most basic users a live situation where they can see the results of their actions and things that bad guys might be trying to do to them, so they can counteract it.”

The CCOE models the Wisconsin Idea perfectly, which revolves around the purpose of why universities are present. In partnership with Pima Community College in Arizona, UWO was able to set up the CCOE in a safe and educational way.

“Whether it be on our phones, buying things, online banking, buying movie tickets, there’s all sorts of digital presence that we have and yet we don’t think about the trails that we leave and the things that we need to do to keep ourselves safe,” Patton said. “We would not even consider when we leave the house or get out of our car, to not lock the doors – that’s just something you do. And yet, digitally, we do the equivalent of that all the time. We get out of the car and walk away.”

The CCOE has had many events and traveled to many schools in the Oshkosh area to spread awareness on being more cybersecure.

“The bad guys [in cybersecurity] are like any other criminals,” Patton said. “They’re looking for the easy mark. We just want to make you less of an easy mark.”

Patton encourages all students to try out a class, become a volunteer there, attend an event or visit the CCOE.

“You live in the 21st century,” Patton said. “You are going to be evermore dealing with digital things, and there aren’t enough people who understand the cybersecurity risk and the opportunities to meet the marketplace. The growth of that industry in the employment area is leaps and bounds in businesses all over the U.S. If you think this sounds exciting, you want to be of service to your organization, your country, or your family and keep people safe, this is a great way to do it.”