State’s three largest universities form joint cybersecurity center

Cybersecurity experts from the state’s three largest research universities have joined together to launch the Oregon Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, with the goal of improving Oregon’s resilience to cyberattacks. 

The center will be run jointly by the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Portland State University, which will host the center. It was created by the passage of House Bill 2049, which was signed into law by Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek in July. 

The center, which will serve as an advisory body to the governor and state Legislature, also will help coordinate cybersecurity workforce development, education, awareness and training across the state, as well as focusing on the unmet needs of regional and local government agencies, special districts, school districts and libraries.

Reza Rejaie, a professor and head of the Department of Computer Science at the UO, will serve as an associate director. 

“Universities are uniquely positioned to establish or extend relationships with various stakeholders and collectively offer the required expertise and experiences to support, coordinate and execute a wide range of envisioned activities to address cybersecurity challenges across the state,” Rejaie said. 

PSU, OSU and the UO developed a charter for the center effective in November, and activities are anticipated to begin this month.

“Cyberattacks hit public agencies, private businesses and individuals daily,” said state Rep. Nancy Nathanson, who co-sponsored the bill. “Malicious actors are demanding ransom payment in exchange for access to stolen data. Oregon school districts, cities and businesses aren't just vulnerable, they are being attacked.”

The bill, also co-sponsored by state Sen. Aaron Woods, represents years of work to garner enough support to gain passage.

“HB 2049 marks a significant stride in fortifying Oregon’s digital defense by establishing the Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, a hub for enhancing cybersecurity expertise and resources across public, private and educational sectors,” Woods said. “The center will boost Oregon’s cybersecurity workforce and help fortify Oregon against evolving digital threats.” 

Birol Yesilada, a professor director of PSU’s Mark O. Hatfield Cybersecurity and Cyber Defense Center, will serve as the center’s first director. Yesilada said activities coordinated by the center will measurably improve the security, privacy and resiliency of cyberspace in Oregon. He said many organizations across the state — including the League of Oregon Cities, the Oregon Association of Counties, the Technology Association of Oregon, and others — were involved in making the center a reality. 

“The opportunity for having such a profound societal impact and working with all these stakeholders make our involvement in the center uniquely exciting,” Yesilada said.

Rakesh Bobba, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at OSU, joins Rejaie and Yesilada as an associate director. 

“It is also helpful that the three schools, and the people involved, work incredibly well together — it is a great team,” Bobba said. “I’m especially excited by the workforce development opportunities in cybersecurity the center will help create and the direct impact this will have on improving Oregon’s cybersecurity posture.”