Iowa Cyber Hub enlists ‘Cybersecurity Ambassadors’ to help their communities

Doug Jacobson pictured at a Cyber Defense Competition

Iowa State's Doug Jacobson has been studying cybersecurity problems since the early 1990s, when he and a colleague won research funding from the National Security Agency. Larger photo. Archive photo by Christopher Gannon.

AMES, Iowa – With “a legion of cyber guardians” posted around the state, the Iowa Cyber Hub is hoping to improve hometown cybersecurity for Iowans.

The idea is for the hub (an organization established in 2017 by Iowa State University and Des Moines Area Community College) to enlist volunteer “Cybersecurity Ambassadors.” This corps of ambassadors will help friends, families, businesses and communities take proactive measures to keep their online information safe and secure.

“Together, we’ll ignite a wave of cyber-savviness that revolutionizes how our community navigates the digital frontier!” organizers wrote in a program summary.

Leaders of the hub will officially launch the ambassador program from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesday, Oct. 31, in the Campanile Room of the Memorial Union on the Iowa State campus. They’re promoting the program as “an opportunity that blends technology, leadership and community service.” The public is invited.

Doug Jacobson – the Sunil and Sujata Gaitonde Professor in Cybersecurity at Iowa State, a University Professor in Electrical and Computer Engineering, director of the university’s Center for Cybersecurity Innovation and Outreach and executive director of the Iowa Cyber Hub – said the ambassadors are going to be an extension of the cybersecurity community.

“I’ve always had this goal of every Iowan understanding basic cybersecurity,” Jacobson said. “But there’s only one of me and 3 million of them.”

With Cybersecurity Ambassadors trained and certified through the state’s 4-H programs, schools, area education agencies, community colleges, colleges, universities and Iowa State Extension and Outreach, the hub is hoping to build a network of people who can promote basic cybersecurity practices that prevent online threats such as identity theft.

Jacobson said one of the program’s strengths will be its focus on peers helping peers.

“It’s one thing for me to talk to a high school class,” he said. “It’s another thing for a student to talk to classmates.”


Cybersecurity for all

Jacobson traces his cybersecurity interest back to the early 1990s when he and a colleague won research funding from the National Security Agency. That eventually led to cybersecurity classes, degree programs, an internet security testbed, cyber defense competitions, research centers, outreach to young people interested in technology and founding of the Iowa Cyber Hub.

“It’s a fun area,” he said. “It’s always changing. The academic and industry communities are very collaborative. We’re all trying to solve the same big problem.”

Jacobson said program organizers are trying to make the ambassador program fun as well. There are no big barriers to entry. Students as young as eighth or ninth graders should fit in. And organizers are working on special training videos that will be announced at the launch event. (Hint: “I’m just a URL,” sung to surf music might remind you of a certain 1970s video series on Saturday morning television.)

So, the call is going out to people excited about computers and helping others:

“Join us as we embark on this exciting journey to foster a society with the knowledge to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly,” organizers wrote. “Together, we can build a future where cybersecurity is not a privilege but a fundamental right.”