Cybersecurity Education in Whatcom County

by Nichole Schmitt

In an era where cyber-attacks have become an evil and lucrative industry, Whatcom County must remain on guard and intensify efforts to secure local businesses. Such attacks jeopardize public access to healthcare, disrupt business operations, and impede consumer transactions.

In 2023, ransomware affected 66 percent of organizations globally according to the Sophos report, “The State of Ransomware 2023.” (1) In the United States, Washington ranks ninth in a list of the most attacked states according to RudderStack. (2) Survey results vary, but most suggest in “The State of Ransomware 2023” that half of all victims pay the ransom to get their data back. According to the Washington State Attorney General’s office, over 4 million Washingtonians were affected by data breaches in 2023.

Ransomware is an attack where a hacker invades a company network, steals or encrypts data, and demands a ransom before releasing it. In a “triple extortion” (3) attack, the criminals move the data to another location, encrypt it, and threaten to leak the data to the public, to the dark web, or to a competitor unless the ransom is paid.

Educating and hiring enough people skilled in cybersecurity defense can help businesses avoid such attacks. Building a hiring pipeline now can fill those jobs in years to come. This will be discussed at a free public event at Whatcom Community College (WCC) on April 24, 2024. By establishing working relationships with local colleges, businesses can provide feedback and requests for specific skill sets and thereby shape the skill sets that are taught to the people they will hire in the future.

Local businesses are encouraged to attend and start building such a working relationship with Whatcom Community College. It can be a struggle to attract and afford seasoned veterans in cybersecurity, but a diversified team of technicians can safely include interns, apprentices, and new grads. This will be discussed by industry leaders who will also describe pertinent technologies used in today’s arsenal of cybersecurity defense.

Industry leaders will also discuss their own hiring strategies, the skills they look for, and the inclusion of interns, apprentices, and graduates. The corporations represented by this panel include Boeing, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Tiro Security, Cloud Security Alliance, and the Washington State Auditor’s Office.

The cybersecurity training programs at WCC were started over a decade ago to help fill the need for skilled technicians both locally and nationally. After earning the CAE-CD designation (Center of Academic Excellence – Cyber Defense), the college received several grants to continue evolving the program. Today WCC offers an Associates program and a Bachelor of applied science in IT networking — cybersecurity.

In 2021, a local impact study was commissioned by the National Cybersecurity Training & Education Center (NCyTE). It is entitled “Local Academic and Economic Impacts of the CAE-CD Designation.” The study found that the CAE-CD designation has contributed toward a cumulated $16.3 million in earnings and 948 new jobs in the region surrounding the college. 

NCyTE and the CAE Candidate National Center (CCNC) hosted at WCC collaborate with The White House Office of National Cyber Director and the National Cyber Director for Workforce & Education to disseminate efforts to improve current and future directions of cybersecurity education in the United States.

NCyTE and WCC hosted the December 2022 Community College Cybersecurity Strategic Summit resulting in the Future Directions: 2022 Summit Publication providing key inputs into the National Cybersecurity Strategy (released March 2023) and the National Cybersecurity Workforce & Education Strategy (released July 2023).

WCC is a rich resource to help our community meet the training and educational challenges in this ever-evolving space. To assist in this strategy, the college campus is proud to be the host institution for the following organizations: The National Cybersecurity Training & Education Center (NCyTE) (NSF grant#2054724), the CAE Candidate National Center (CCNC) (NSA grant# H9230-22-1-0331), and the Washington State Center of Cybersecurity Excellence (CCoE). These organizations work to increase the quantity and quality of a cyber-skilled workforce, ready to defend against cyberattacks. NCyTE and CCNC work at a national level and the CCoE focuses on Washington state.



Nichole Schmitt was born and raised in Whatcom County. After earning a degree in Information Technology, she worked in the tech sector of Seattle for two decades. Returning home, she now works with the Cybersecurity Center of Academic Excellence at Whatcom Community College.

Bookmark the permalink.