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McCrary Institute leads in cybersecurity innovation, collaboration

The institute is poised to have a significant influence over the direction of cybersecurity for the future.

Director Frank J. Cilluffo of the McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security at Auburn University.
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In the digital age, where cybersecurity threats loom large over contemporary life, the McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security at Auburn University stands as a beacon of innovation and expertise. Under the leadership of Director Frank J. Cilluffo, the institute has carved out a pivotal role in shaping cybersecurity policies at both national and international levels. The institute’s mission, its collaborative efforts, and the broader implications of cybersecurity on global security dynamics are poised to have a significant influence over the direction of cybersecurity for the future.

In addition to university support, the institute has enlisted a consulting firm, Matrix LLC, to support the institute as it grows. Through this collaboration, Auburn and Matrix have created a new strategic plan, along with plans for communications, budgeting and personnel to further advance Auburn’s impact throughout the cybersecurity sector.

Cilluffo’s background is rich in policy matters, with a tenure at George Washington University and involvement in high-level advisory roles, including the Cyberspace Solarium Commission and the Department of Homeland Security’s Advisory Council. His insights into the cybersecurity domain are informed by years of experience, including his post-9/11 role under President George W. Bush, where he played a significant part in formulating homeland security strategies.

The McCrary Institute’s mission is to translate theoretical cybersecurity frameworks into actionable strategies, providing policymakers and industry leaders with the tools necessary to protect critical infrastructures against cyber threats. Cilluffo emphasizes an empirical approach that integrates the scientific aspects of cybersecurity with the realities of implementing effective defenses.

“Our focus is on bridging the gap between theoretical concepts and practical capabilities in cybersecurity,” said Cilluffo. “The goal is to combine empirical science with strategic art to create actionable roadmaps for policymakers, emphasizing the need for a unified approach that incorporates policy, research, and education to enhance security at both national and state levels.”

Cilluffo is quick to highlight the collaborative nature of cybersecurity at the McCrary Institute. It’s a realm that transcends traditional boundaries, requiring a multidisciplinary dialogue to address the complex threats facing national and international security.

“Collaboration among policy institutions, universities, companies, and research organizations is crucial for advancing cybersecurity education and research,” Cilluffo said. “I can’t express strongly enough the importance of bringing together diverse entities to foster a comprehensive security strategy that addresses the multifaceted nature of cyber threats.”

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The institute adopts a holistic approach, recognizing the interconnectedness of various sectors, whose cybersecurity must be protected. The cascading effects of cyber incidents across these infrastructures necessitate a comprehensive strategy to address vulnerabilities. Cilluffo points out the critical nature of the electricity sector, where a compromise could have far-reaching consequences on societal functionality.

Cilluffo identifies enhancing the cybersecurity resilience of sectors not traditionally at the forefront of cybersecurity initiatives, such as healthcare and water supply, as a key challenge. These sectors are increasingly targets for cyber activities, highlighting the need for proactive defense.

“We must acknowledge the unique challenges faced by different sectors, including energy, healthcare, and water systems, across all areas of infrastructure,” Cilluffo noted. “The interdependency of these sectors and their vulnerabilities to cyber-attacks are of great concern; we need to focus on the need for sector-specific security enhancements across the board.”

On the international stage, Cilluffo highlights the strategic challenges posed by nations like China and Russia, emphasizing the need for vigilance against their cyber capabilities. However, he also notes that smaller nations, like Iran, despite having less sophisticated capabilities, can inflict considerable harm through cyber means.

“Nothing is of greater importance than understanding cyber threats within the broader geopolitical context,” Cilluffo added. “The necessity of integrating expertise in international relations with cyber proficiency to effectively counteract state and non-state cyber actors is of utmost importance.”

The institute’s commitment to advancing the discourse on cybersecurity is evident in its collaborative efforts with academia, industry, and government. By developing resilient strategies and policies, the McCrary Institute aims not only to respond to current threats but also to anticipate future challenges in the cyber domain. As society becomes increasingly dependent on digital infrastructure, the importance of such forward-thinking initiatives cannot be overstated.

Cilluffo’s leadership has positioned the McCrary Institute as a crucial player in the cybersecurity landscape, leveraging Auburn University’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering’s expertise. The institute serves as a trusted resource for decision-makers, highlighting the ubiquity of cybersecurity concerns across various sectors.

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Through initiatives like the “Cyber Focus” videocast podcast, the institute fosters critical discussions on cybersecurity policy and practice. Cilluffo’s insights into the interconnectedness of critical infrastructures and the comprehensive approach required to secure them against evolving threats underscore the institute’s forward-thinking strategy. As the threat to cybersecurity becomes ubiquitous in modern life, Cilluffo underscores the critical need for the institute’s work across various sectors.

The McCrary Institute’s unique podcast features top thinkers, journalists, and experts in the field of cybersecurity. Featuring guest Tom Fanning, executive chairman of Southern Company, on his vision for U.S. cybersecurity; News Brief with Politico’s Maggie Miller; and The U.S. Cyber Landscape with Chris Inglis, the nation’s first national cyber director, among others.

By enhancing public and expert understanding of cybersecurity through a wide range of initiatives, the McCrary Institute stands at the forefront of shaping cybersecurity policy and resilience. Its role as a hub of influential discourse and expertise is vital in addressing the multifaceted challenges of cybersecurity in the digital era.

McCrary Institute is home to a prestigious roster of 2024 senior fellows, featuring a distinguished lineup of experts from various sectors. This year’s fellows include prominent figures who have held critical national security, cybersecurity, and technology positions.

Among the illustrious appointees is George C. Barnes, affiliated with Red Cell Partners, known for his tenure as the former Deputy Director at the National Security Agency (NSA). The music industry is represented by Ben Bass of Universal Music Group, who also boasts a background as the former Director of the National Computer Forensics Institute.

The list continues with David Bowdich from The Walt Disney Company, who previously served as the FBI’s Deputy Director, and Stephen Boyd of Horizons Global Solutions, the former Assistant Attorney General at the Department of Justice. Thomas P. Bossert from Trinity Cyber, a past Homeland Security Advisor, and Cheri Caddy, a former Deputy Assistant National Cyber Director for Technology and Research, are also among the honored fellows.

The cybersecurity domain sees representation from Chris Cummiskey of Cummiskey Strategic Solutions, previously the Under Secretary for Management at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Mike D’Ambrosio from Liberty Strategic Capital, the former Assistant Director of the Office of Investigations at the U.S. Secret Service.

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Additional noteworthy names include Michael Daniel of the Cyber Threat Alliance, former Cybersecurity Advisor at the Executive Office of the President, and Chuck Durant from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The intelligence community’s presence is marked by Bill Evanina of the Evanina Group, the former Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.

This eclectic group of fellows, hailing from diverse backgrounds and industries, reflects the McCrary Institute’s commitment to fostering interdisciplinary dialogue and research in national security and cybersecurity. Their collective expertise is expected to contribute significantly to the institute.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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