Louisiana Enables Cyber Protection for Higher Ed in the State Through LSU
With $7.5 million in support from the state legislature, higher education in Louisiana can now gain cyber protection—at no additional cost to the institution—through an industry-leading model developed at LSU.
The LSU Security Operations Center, or SOC, will deliver round-the-clock protection together with its industry partners, TekStream and Splunk, while training students as cyber analysts.
Dustin Glover, chief cyber officer for the state of Louisiana, explains how it’s going to work.
“First one to get hit by a cyberattack alerts everybody else,” Glover said. “The shared SOC allows us to take advantage of everyone’s disadvantage—we can’t stop that first attack—but we use that to our advantage by sharing threat information from multiple sources, so everyone is better protected.”
Glover works directly with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, or GOHSEP, Louisiana National Guard, Louisiana State Police’s Cyber Crime Unit and many others as part of the state’s emergency support function for cybersecurity, or ESF-17. His office is charged with identifying and remediating cyberattacks everywhere in Louisiana and provides support to state and local government and critical infrastructure, which includes universities.
“Higher education is a high-value target for attackers and you’re never going to change that,” Glover said. “You have labs, students, staff and faculty. You have dorm rooms and class rooms, third party vendors. This becomes very complex to manage from a security perspective. It’s a huge burden on the state, and we spend a lot of money on just an adequate level of monitoring. We’re hoping, through this partnership with LSU and TekStream, that cost can go down and the value go up. I’m passionately convinced we can do this.”
In this year’s legislative session, state lawmakers allocated $7.5 million for LSU’s SOC expansion to protect all of Louisiana higher education in the permanent state budget. Glover sees three immediate benefits of this investment. First, his office can more easily and quickly learn about new attacks on universities and use their shared threat intelligence to better protect the state as part of its broader Louisiana Cybersecurity Assurance Plan. Second, universities that protect themselves help the state save resources. Third, the SOCs in Baton Rouge and Shreveport will train students as professional cyber analysts.
“My goal, very selfishly, is to tap that pool of talent for the Cyber Crime Unit of the Louisiana State Police, the Louisiana National Guard’s cyber operations and the state’s Office of Technology Services,” Glover said.
LSU’s model has received national attention since first announced last spring.
“LSU’s approach is a game-changer and gaining traction across higher education,” said Mary Lou Prevost, Splunk’s group vice president for state, local and higher education. “We’re focused on ensuring this model can be replicated across the entire country to provide all higher education institutions with a proven, scalable cybersecurity program that also creates a highly skilled workforce to fill the 750,000 vacant cyber jobs in the U.S.”
In recent weeks, LSU Baton Rouge and TekStream have been in full swing to recruit students from across the academic disciplines who are interested in working in the SOC to protect Louisiana and receive specialized, hands-on training to understand and manage cyber risk.
The LSU Baton Rouge SOC is now fully up and running, and so is LSU Shreveport’s. Both are physical SOCs with powerful capabilities. Participating schools across the state will soon gain cloud access to shared SOC capabilities, without the need to invest in staff, space or equipment. This virtual and free access is enabled by LONI, the Louisiana Optical Network Infrastructure, a state-owned, high-speed data network managed by LSU.
The onboarding process of the more than 30 Louisiana schools connected by LONI is estimated to take up to two years, with as many as four new schools gaining SOC services each quarter.
LSU Health New Orleans is among the first to join this month.
“We’re finally at a point where we have a viable and useful SOC for all of higher education in Louisiana,” said Kenneth Boe, chief information officer at LSU Health New Orleans. “None of us could afford to do this alone. We couldn’t afford enough equipment or enough people to do it 24/7, and the bad guys all around the world, they’re not just hitting us during regular business hours.”
Louisiana Tech is also receiving cybersecurity services through the cloud-based SOC with the goal of getting their own physical, student-staffed SOC up and running by December.
“It’s incredible, working with LSU and LONI, to actually see this happen—especially for public higher education,” said Thomas Hoover, chief information officer at Louisiana Tech and vice president for information technology for the University of Louisiana System. “This is our first opportunity to proactively improve our cybersecurity posture collectively. Ensuring this resource is available to everyone for free makes us all better. This is very exciting.”
The SOC services rollout will be high on the agenda when the Louisiana Board of Regents hosts its third cyber roadshow for Louisiana higher education this month. Chief information officers from around the state will gather at LSU Alexandria in Central Louisiana on October 11 and at Nicholls State in Thibodaux in South Louisiana on October 12.
“We started these cyber roadshows in July 2022 with the help of ESF-17, the state’s cybersecurity team,” said Matthew LaBruyere, deputy commissioner for finance and administration at the Louisiana Board of Regents. “Our goal is to provide Louisiana higher education with information on what the state is doing to become proactive towards cybersecurity to help with incident response and in writing individual response plans. This month’s regional meetings will have a SOC component in addition to new information for responding to events.”
Meanwhile, at LSUS, students are eagerly eyeing the six SOC workstations they’ll soon be using to help respond to cyber threats.
“Working in the LSUS SOC will be an avenue for me to contribute to the success and security of the state,” said Sarah Okpe, a graduate student majoring in cybersecurity at LSUS. “It would give me hands-on training and experience with real-life scenarios, and that will help me in my current course work and in my future career.”
Dustin Glover says LSU’s foresight and Louisiana’s leadership in cyber is setting an example for the nation.
“It’s very difficult for the Department of Homeland Security and its Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to accomplish the goal that’s been set before them, which is to secure the nation,” Glover said. “Right now, Louisiana and LSU are showing the federal government how cyber defense can become more efficient. There is a better way to do this, and we’re proving so.”