SPRINGFIELD – Union Station commuters will wait for trains and grab their morning coffee while across Dunkin’ Donuts and the subway, unseen in a not-so-secret lab, a new generation of cyberwarriors hone their skills and even will fight still emerging global security threats.
Springfield Technical Community College and a consortium of western Massachusetts colleges and universities received a $1.46 million state grant Monday with support from U.S. Representative Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, to create a cybersecurity center of excellence.
Funding for the outgoing administration of Governor Charlie Baker-Lt. Governor Karyn Polito and the Mass Cyber Center, along with $500,000 from the city, will establish a security operations center and cyber range at Union Station. College officials say they hope to open the 6,000 square foot center in early 2024.
It is one of two such centers to be established in the state. The other will be located at Bridgewater State University.
“It’s cutting-edge technology,” Neal said, going on to describe how cybersecurity is a daily presence in all of our lives. “Let’s be frank, the threat comes from Russia and China. That’s where the threat comes from,” added Neal, chairman of the House Committee on Ways & Means.
He thanked Polito and former Baker administration official Jay Ash for their help on the project. Neal also thanked the late Kevin E. Kennedy for his work in completing the Union Station project. Kennedy, who died in August at age 70, was the city’s director of economic development and, before that, a longtime aide to the congressman.
The cybersecurity center’s location on the first floor of Union Station means the building’s owner, Springfield Redevelopment Authority, will now occupy 80% of the building, Neal added. It was Neal who led the decades-long effort to rehabilitate the once-abandoned Union Station with $103 million in state, local and federal money into a transportation hub with trains, buses, parking lots, businesses retail and offices.
“That’s another part of the good story that Union Station tells,” Neal said.
Mary Kaselouskas, vice president and chief information officer at Springfield Technical Community College, said Union Station is a great location because it’s accessible to the public and helps attract a diverse group of students and workers. It also makes the center part of the region, not just the college. Partners include Bay Path University, Elms College, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Western New England University, Springfield College, and American International College.
The cyber range will open first with the latest hardware and software. There, students will be able to learn how to identify and neutralize threats. It is a range like a practice range that the police could use, suitable for simulations or war games of the red team against the blue team.
In the third or fourth year, the program will expand to include a Security Operations Center, providing real-world security protection to city governments, small businesses, and nonprofits.
Kaselouskas said the operations center will eventually generate revenue and also help protect customers in Western Massachusetts.
If a city government, for example, has a question or perceives a threat, said Peter Sherlock, CEO of CyberTrust Massachusetts, “They’ll be on the phone with young talent.”
Sherlock said the workspace is meant to encourage teamwork.
“That’s where they’ll learn,” he says. “It’s where faculty and students, professionals and those entering the industry will get to know each other and build collaborations and a cybersecurity community for the state.”
The Consortium of Western Massachusetts Colleges and Universities played an important role in selecting the Springfield site. It’s too expensive a business, especially the software, for a college to set up on its own, Kaselouskas said.
Stephanie Helm, director of the Mass Cyber Center, said the concept of having both the training lab and the real-world operations center in one physical location reminds her of her time in the Navy. “Then the students can do the simulations, go through the training, and then go right next to it and see the knowledge put into practice,” she said.
Kaselouskas said STCC already has about 150 students in its cybersecurity program.
Bay Path’s cybersecurity program, meanwhile, dates back to 2013. In 2019, when it received a $250,000 state grant to provide its students with work experience through a partnership with Paragus Strategic IT, based in Hadley, Bay Path had 40 students in the two-year master’s program and another 32 students majoring in cybersecurity in the undergraduate program.