A Florida International University initiative is training hundreds of veterans in cybersecurity skills to boost their careers.

The Veterans and First Responders Training Initiative, supported by a grant from the National Security Agency, is a year-long cybersecurity curriculum taught by the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy, the College of Engineering and Computing (CEC)and the Global Forensic and Justice Center (GFJC) at FIU. Any veterans and first responders, even those with no technical experience, are welcome to apply.

“As long as you know how to turn on a computer, you can begin taking this program,” said Randy Pestana, assistant director of research and strategic initiatives at the Gordon Institute at the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs and the initiative’s principal investigator.

There were more than 700,000 online job listings for cybersecurity-related positions in the U.S. from May 2021 through April 2022, according to Cyber Seek — a project supported by the National Initiative for Cybersecurity.

“At the end of the day, we want to put them into jobs,” said Alexander Perez-Pons, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at CEC who teaches the program’s network forensics course.

FIU’s initiative is training veterans specifically in digital forensics, an increasingly important area of cybersecurity. Matthew Ruddell, who spent 15 years working for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s crime laboratory and is now an adjunct professor at CEC and a member of GFJC, compares the work of digital forensics to that of a crime scene analyst.

“Everyone understands what crime scene analysts do. They arrive at a scene, document it, take lots of photographs and search for artifacts. Digital forensics is kind of the same thing in the digital world,” Ruddell said. “Our job is to take digital evidence, rope it off so we don’t change any of the data, make a copy of every single one and zero and then do a systematic search to try to find what is relevant to our case.”

Digital forensics can be applied to numerous jobs. For example, an investigator could examine devices in a home after a robbery to put together a timeline of the incident. In the future, Perez-Pons said, insurers could use digital forensics to see if autonomous vehicles are at fault for accidents.

Corey Slayton, an FIU student and veteran who is enrolled in the program, hopes to apply his growing skills in a business environment. He is pursuing a joint degree combining the international MBA program with the Master of Science in Information Systems program at FIU Business.

“I feel like this initiative is empowering me with the cybersecurity knowledge to bridge the gap between executives and technical experts, which will be a big help in enabling business strategy,” Slayton said.

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