Pensacola, Florida
Monday July 22nd 2019


ITEN WIRED Debuts Cyber Range

By Duwayne Escobedo

FloridaWest and IT Gulf Coast will make history at this year’s ITEN WIRED Summit with the launch of the Florida Cyber Range.

The innovative simulator developed in a partnership between Metova CyberCENTS and the University of West Florida Center for Cybersecurity will create a real-world cybersecurity competition for college cyber teams and will be available for demonstrations at the three-day event from Oct. 9-11 at Pensacola Beach.

Once unveiled at the summit, the UWF Center for Cybersecurity plans to use the Florida Cyber Range for hands-on cybersecurity education, training, operations and research

Dr. Eman El-Sheikh, Director of the UWF Center for Cybersecurity, said the Cyber Range offers a huge advantage to its students.

“We’re really excited,” El-Sheikh said. “It helps prepare our students for their future careers. The hands-on capability will teach them how to handle attacks.”

El-Sheikh said UWF plans to share the Cyber Range with other Florida and Southeast colleges.

Cody Mahaffey, a 31-year-old UWF cybersecurity student, said he can’t wait to get his hands on the Cyber Range.

“There’s no substitute for hands-on training that the Cyber Range will give us,” said Mahaffey, a senior who heads the UWF Cybersecurity Club. “I’m happy the university is pushing forward with this.”

Not only will the Cyber Range enhance cybersecurity education but students will get the opportunity to do advanced research to help the high-tech industry solve cyber issues, said Bill Dunn, president of Metova CyberCENTS.

“It reinforces what they learn in the classroom,” Dunn said. “When they physically do something, it will help them retain the knowledge they’ve been presented. Our goal taking of it into universities is to improve cyber training and address the large shortage of trained cyber professionals.”

Creating the Cyber Coast
More than 1,200 cybersecurity jobs remain unfilled in the region. Nationwide, more than 209,000 cybersecurity job openings exist, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

To fill those high-paying positions and grow the high-tech industry, including cybersecurity, in the Northwest Florida region various groups have teamed together. That includes UWF, Pensacola State College, Escambia County School District, local companies, such as New Horizons and Invictus, which provide industry certifications and credentials, as well as groups like ITEN (Innovation Technology Entrepreneur Network) WIRED, IT Gulf Coast and Innovation Coast.

All have a common goal. They want to make this part of Florida known around the country as the “Cyber Coast.”

Sean O’Brien, CSRA NETC ITSS Program Executive, said he is encouraged but the region has a way to go to create a pipeline of workers to fulfill all the job openings and to attract more high-tech companies.

“The quality is great, the quantity is not,” said O’Brien said, who pointed out the process is slow but very enthusiastic. “Local organizations need to provide more incentive and more talent to get companies to come to our area.”

Jim Rhodes said he was skeptical of the high-tech industry when he first relocated here from Charlotte in the early 2000s. The ITEN WIRED Planning Committee director and AppRiver mobile solutions supervisor said he is amazed at the growth of high-tech locally since he moved to Pensacola.

“We haven’t figured out the magic formula yet,” Rhodes said. “But we have made it our mission to tell the stories of what companies are here and connect our area with the outside world. We’re steering in the right direction.”

Even the Escambia County school system has gotten involved. It has the Pine Forest High School Cybersecurity Academy, which has about 110 students enrolled, the West Florida High School Academy of Information Technology and Tate High School Game Simulation and Animation Academy.

It has similar career academies at Bellview, Bailey and Ferry Pass middle schools. The school district is even implementing computer science and Science Technology Engineering and Math concepts into elementary education.

Dr. Michelle Taylor heads the workforce programs for the school system and partners with many of the local companies to help in shaping the curriculum and in training the teachers.

“It is our objective to increase the talent pipeline for Information Technology,” Taylor said. “It is exciting and inspirational that we have so many 16-, 17- and 18-year olds with interest in this as a career path.”

Laura Campbell pointed out that getting a degree is not the only route to a successful career in high-tech. She is the regional sales manager for New Horizons Computer Learning Centers.

Her company is providing two scholarships at the ITEN WIRED Summit. One is a $24,800 scholarship to become a Server Administrator and the other is a $29,800 scholarship that will qualify the recipient as a Network Security Administrator Specialist. New Horizons also has a 96 percent job placement rate.

“You don’t need a college degree,” Campbell said. “People just don’t know about it. This is a viable career path.”

WHEN: 10 a.m. Monday, Oct. 9-4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11
WHERE: Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front, 12 Via de Luna Dr.
COST: $315 general admission, $75 student