YU’s new cybersecurity program offers Israel a ‘super highway’ to access US companies - The Jewish Voice
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YU’s new cybersecurity program offers Israel a ‘super highway’ to access US companies

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 Yeshiva University held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on March 8 in Midtown Manhattan for its new security operations center, which dean of its Katz School of Science and Health Paul Russo is calling a “game-changer.”

The first of its kind in New York City, the center (SOC) will provide hands-on, real-world experience with next-generation technologies; hyper-realistic and immersive simulations; enterprise-grade networks; and advanced security tools to researchers and students in the Katz School’s cybersecurity, computer science, artificial intelligence and data analytics programs, according to the university.

By simulating a cyberattack on a real-life network system, the SOC will allow students to experience various scenarios and defend against—and hopefully, overcome—live-fire attacks from hackers.

“You will find a secure operations center at most large organizations because it’s necessary to isolate the people and the systems that manage everything from network traffic to cybersecurity-related tools,” Marian Merritt, deputy director of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, told JNS. (NIST is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce.)

“You don’t want the average person to have access to those systems. So they literally lock them up,” said Merritt, a former director of cyber education and online safety programs at Symantec. “They make sure that the doors, the walls, the ceilings, the power supply—everything is secure. It borrows from the military.”

YU online cybersecurity students will have remote access to labs, allowing for real-time collaboration with those in the SOC. Instructors will expose students to cyber bait, such as malicious emails and messages, give them access to vendors and afford them the ability to use real-world platforms and technology.

Debuting the security operations center feels like “a dream come true,” Sivan Tehila, an Israeli-American noted cybersecurity expert who runs both the school’s online and brick-and-mortar master’s programs in cybersecurity, told JNS. Giving students such real-world experience has been one of Yeshiva’s goals for the cybersecurity program from the start, she said.

“We’re very much excited about what’s coming next,” she stated.

‘A vote of confidence’

Tehila’s background and Yeshiva’s Israel connections, as well as Israel’s massive exportation of cybersecurity ingenuity and expertise, meant that the event drew several Israeli government dignitaries.

Asaf Zamir, Israeli consul general in New York, told attendees the partnership between Yeshiva and Israel’s cybersecurity industry went deeper than just their respective leadership at any given moment.

“A center like this, which really tackles Israel’s main expertise, allows the university to nourish a relationship between students and the sector that is so important for Israel’s security, for the Jewish nation’s security, but also for world security,” he said.

When Fortune magazine ranked online cybersecurity master’s programs in 2022-23, Yeshiva was second, behind the University of California, Berkeley, and ahead of Indiana University-Bloomington (4), Johns Hopkins University (5), the University of Arizona (6) and others.

Israeli cybersecurity companies drew 40% of global cybersecurity investment in 2021, and demand for qualified employees through the industry is exploding.

Anat Katz, Israel’s economic minister for North America, told JNS it is a “major statement” when a leading university, like Yeshiva, adds an ambitious cyber program—one that will connect New York and Israel.

“Who do they take? They take an Israeli to lead their program. I think it’s a vote of confidence that we’ve been hearing from investors, end customers and also now in academia,” said Katz.

Yeshiva also opted to partner on its SOC with Cyberbit, an Israeli cybersecurity skill development platform, she noted.

Susan Green, Cyberbit’s national director, told attendees that some of the biggest brands use her employer’s platform. “From a student point of view, when you come and finish this program, you will absolutely be workforce ready,” she said.

Yeshiva leadership touted the benefits of the new SOC, with dean Russo calling it a “game-changer” that will give students access to tools being used in every company. He said that even before the SOC was created, the school’s cybersecurity program was already producing results.

“Ninety-five percent of our students are employed within six months of graduation. The salaries are significant,” he said. “Yeshiva and Israel are tethered. I’d like to think of us as kind of a superhighway for access to American companies. That’s what we’re trying to do, and so far, thank God, it’s working.”

The cybersecurity industry is currently facing a severe shortage of employees. The Cyber Seek website, which tracks job availability in the sector, shows more than 38,000 jobs available in the New York City metro region alone—7% above the national supply-demand average.

‘Step into the role on day one’

Motty Zisovitch, a YU cybersecurity student and a winning team member of the SOC’s first hackathon, told JNS a live SOC presented a “very challenging and eye-opening experience,” in which students could find vulnerabilities of attacks. “It was interesting to see it in real life,” he said.

Merritt, of the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, told JNS that those who graduate from academic cybersecurity programs often lack hands-on skills, which makes it hard to find their first cybersecurity jobs.

“Everybody wants somebody who can step into the role on day one, ready to go and familiar with common software packages and applications that are used to defend an organization against cyber threats,” she said.

Depending on how Yeshiva manages and implements its SOC, it “could be a place for a student to practice the knowledge that they’re developing in the classroom in a practical way,” said Merritt. “Now their résumé has experience that is extremely valuable to an employer.”

A graduate with SOC experience would reduce, if not eliminate, the high risk associated with an untrained person working in a secure environment, she added.

Tehila, an intelligence and cybersecurity veteran in the Israel Defense Forces and recognized pioneer for women in the cybersecurity field, said leading Yeshiva’s program and its progression through the opening of the SOC has been a “mission.”

“It’s really meaningful for me to bring all my expertise and knowledge and experience I’ve gained during my years in the industry and to educate the next generation,” she said. “I’m sure we’re going to see many success stories coming out of this program.”

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