Britton was Parsons' Vice President when the company pledged $100,000 to Cal Poly's Cyber Initiative in 2013. | Amy B. Hughes/Courtesy

Lindsy Mobley
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In a world where technology constantly surrounds us, how many of us really know how secure it is?

Cal Poly’s cybersecurity initiative announced Parsons Corporation Vice President Bill Britton as the visiting director of the Cybersecurity center on Jan. 5.

The initiative is headed by the College of Engineering to educate students on cybersecurity and to form solutions to secure networks, Britton said. He will serve the university for two years and then return back to the industry with Parsons.

“With Bill’s help as the Parsons visiting director of the Cybersecurity Center, we will foster the talent and create the workforce to help ensure the safety of cyber space. In fact, the active cooperation between Cal Poly and Parsons signifies a new model for university and industry relations in which we work shoulder-to-shoulder to advance education opportunities. Parsons is literally putting their expert in our wheelhouse, and we are grateful,” Dean of the College of Engineering Debra Larson said in a press release on Jan. 5, 2015.

Britton describes cybersecurity as “protection of the network.” He and his staff have come up with a curriculum to teach students, from the introductory phase all the way up to the programming capabilities for cybersecurity, he said.

“The goal would be, of course, to expand that to the entire university to where what we’re producing is cyber-cognitive students,” Britton said.

Whether in liberal arts, business administration, computer science or any other major, it’s vital that students understand cybersecurity because it’s very likely that they will be working on a network, Britton said.

As of now, there is an introductory program for freshmen, but they hope to implement a more in-depth understanding later, he said.

“A lot of people are aware that if I put something on the network, it’s possibly going to get stolen. The idea is to move them beyond the basic awareness to a deeper understanding so as they’re working in their environment (whatever it may be), they understand the importance of how a cybersecurity approach can protect what they’re doing on their network,” Britton said.

In the past, cybersecurity was an assumed responsibility of the IT department. But the “world that we work in” is changing significantly, he said.

There are reporting requirements for finance, legal requirements, governmental requirements and even the New York Stock Exchange has a cyber implementation plan. Cybersecurity is becoming critical for anyone who has something to do with a network, Britton said.

“A better understanding of that across the board and the responsibility you have as a user on that network helps you become a better user,” he said.

Britton believes being educated on cybersecurity will enable people to protect more of their stored data and make informed decisions on equipment purchases and what you allow on their network.

And, of course, there’s the cell phone; if someone has work-related information, such as financial data or personal data, they need a way to protect it.

“Think of all the information you put on your cell phone and how that works,” Britton said. “It’s those kind of things we’re trying to better understand throughout the entire student body. And then secondly, in the computer science department, help to design and build some of the solutions for the future to (aid) the protection of some of those kinds of things.”

Cybersecurity is a current issue on not only a personal but broad scale, Britton said. He noted the current example of how North Korea was able to hold Sony, a multinational company, hostage by accessing their supposedly safe networks.

“Both private and public sectors in the world today conduct business via the electronic highway, but we are daily confronted by news of cyber-attacks that are disruptive to our economic health and security,” Larson said in the press release.

His goal is to establish a five-year program, even though he’s leaving after two. He wants to get the wheels moving for Cal Poly’s cybersecurity initiative to enhance the ability to deliver that “cyber-cognitive student” and help grow the university to where it has a prominent position in the world of security, he said.

“I’m really looking forward to this,” Britton said. “Because (it’s) the opportunity to help deliver something new and different that’s really affecting us.”

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