The Cyber Innovation and Society Initiative at the University of Virginia and the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative hosted the inaugural Virginia Cyber Navigator Boot Camp June 2 and 3 at UVA. The camp is a critical piece of the Virginia Cyber Navigator Program, a multi-university internship program launched in fall 2021 in partnership with the Virginia Department of Elections.
The Virginia Cyber Navigator Program, led by the UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science, is a collaborative program for students at six Virginia public universities to train future cybersecurity professionals to protect election infrastructure. The program is funded by a $3 million grant from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity Program, within the National Security Agency, which promotes academic excellence for institutions that are equipping the cybersecurity workforce to protect critical infrastructure.
The six Virginia universities participating in the navigator program – UVA, George Mason University, Norfolk State University, Old Dominion University, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech – are designated National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity. UVA earned National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense and National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Research designations in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Students attending the boot camp also prepared for upcoming summer internships with election registrars across the state by taking “Cybersecurity and Elections” during the spring 2022 semester at their home institutions.
The course, developed by the university partners with input from the Department of Elections and localities across the state, teaches foundational skills for identifying and securing vulnerabilities in software systems used to support elections.
Thirty-two undergraduates attended the two-day boot camp, where the interns received training for working with the registrars to meet the Department of Elections’ Locality Election Security Standards.
Also attending the camp were students’ faculty mentors, state elections officials, invited guests from the UVA community and representatives of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative.
Kim Wyman, senior election security advisor at the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), gave the keynote address by Zoom.
Jennifer West, dean of UVA Engineering and the Nancy and Neal Wade Professor of Engineering and Applied Science, gave opening remarks.
“The work you all are doing is some of the most important for the sake of our democracy,” West said. “Being able to trust our elections is at the very core of what it means to be a democracy.”
West also addressed the students directly, noting they are at a time of transition in their lives, from student to professional.
“This summer is a really important time to start thinking about developing your professional persona and starting to think of yourself in that way,” West said. “This will be important to make sure that the work that you do is respected and taken very seriously. It’s also important for being able to develop teams that can work together to solve problems, and for you to be confident that you are a talented and capable professional ready for the next step that’s going to come very soon.”
The students heard from a number of speakers, including Virginia Department of Elections officials Johnathan Barbett, director of information security, and Karen Hoyt-Stewart, locality security program manager; and Luiz DaSilva, Bradley Professor of Cybersecurity in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech and executive director of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative.
Professor of computer science Jack Davidson, director of UVA Engineering’s cyber defense program of study and principal investigator on the grant, led the boot camp along with fellow UVA team members Daniel G. Graham, assistant professor of computer science, Worthy Martin, associate professor of computer science; and Angela Orebaugh, assistant professor of computer science.
Deborah G. Johnson, emeritus Anne Shirley Carter Olsson Professor of Applied Ethics and interim chair of the Department of Engineering and Society, is also part of the UVA team.
“The boot camp is a key phase of the students’ preparation for their internship assignments,” Davidson said. “Meeting in person with some of the people they’ll be working with, learning to work in teams, reviewing the Locality Election Security Standards, together with the coursework, is all designed to give the students a playbook to hit the ground running this summer.
“And that’s what this program is about – building a pipeline of capable computer scientists ready to support local governments that are rapidly integrating cyber technologies.”