Alliance wants cybersecurity ‘literacy for every Iowan’

The best way to enhance cybersecurity in Iowa may be through its people. At least, that’s one of the bets a new group is making.

The newly formed Iowa Cyber Alliance met for the first time last week, bringing together educators, businesses and government officials. The Alliance will focus on providing education tools on cybersecurity to the public and bolstering the number of Iowans working in the field.

“It’s really to bring everybody together to make a safer and (more) secure Iowa,” said Doug Jacobson, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State University, who is leading the alliance.

Jacobson said one goal of the group is to have cybersecurity ‘literacy for every Iowan by 2020.’

“We’ve got to give the public the tools and the knowledge, really, to help protect themselves. They can’t rely on pure technology,” Jacobson said. “They have to become a little smarter about security so they can react to new threats, they can recognize when somebody is out to try to steal something from them.”

In addition to educating the public, the Alliance will focus on ways to boost the number of Iowans working in cybersecurity in the state.

“The thought is, if we can start to grow our own (cybersecurity talent), get kids involved in internships, get them engaged in companies early, we can help keep our talent in the state as opposed to having them all leave because they don’t see the opportunities,” Jacobson said.

For instance, the Alliance could put together a resume template tailored for cybersecurity jobs.

“A standard resume does not highlight the fact that a student may have participated in several defense competitions or they may have reverse engineered an Xbox,” Jacobson said. “These sorts of things that would resonate with a security employer don’t match a normal resume.”

As Branstad and others in Iowa push for more computer science education in Iowa, Jacobson said it would make sense to integrate some security lessons into that curriculum.

The Alliance is in part an offshoot of Iowa’s Cybersecurity Strategy, a state government plan released last year. It emerged first as a grant proposal to the federal government, but was not accepted.

Jeff Franklin, Iowa’s deputy chief information officer, said neither the alliance nor the cybersecurity strategy are in response to specific threats.

Education ahead of an attack, though, is important for his office, Franklin said.

“Nobody knows when a zero-day threat will come out, but we always know that we have to respond to that,” he said. “That preparation in advance of when that happens…is critical for us.”

For now, Jacobson said the Alliance is moving ahead without a dedicated funding source.

Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at