Cyber Fusion Center Provides Major Opportunities

by Janet Edwards

Reading time: 4 minutes

In St. Louis, more than 20 nonprofit agencies — including charities, churches, school districts and private schools, small businesses and social service providers — receive cost-free information security analysis through Maryville’s Cyber Fusion Center (CFC). The need for nonprofit agencies to protect the private information of donors cannot be overstated, both from a compliance standpoint and as a matter of fundraising success. However, cyber security can be a costly endeavor. What’s more, such operations divert money that might otherwise be used to advance vital social missions.

The Center is managed by faculty experts and staffed by teams of students enrolled in designated cyber security classes. Students are assigned projects according to their level of experience. Services include penetration testing, vulnerability management, digital forensics and cyber threat monitoring.

“The CFC helps nonprofit entities meet compliance commitments, and further secures the personal data of donors and customers,” says Dustin Loeffler, JD, associate professor and director of Maryville’s cyber security programs. “A nonprofit organization that experiences an information breach will find it very difficult to raise future funds, so the CFC helps secure these clients at no cost and in turn provides our students with an exceptional learning experience which translates into great jobs.”

A leader of a local nonprofit agency sees the partnership with Maryville as an opportunity for growth.

“These services will expand our ability to serve more youth regionally, nationally and even internationally,” says Wendell Covington Jr., president and chief executive officer of Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club. “With a national and international focus, cyber security is a necessity.”

Covington says the cost-savings is significant.

“For nonprofit organizations, computer technology and cybersecurity services are a premium; the costs are prohibitive,” he says. “Our organizations have to spend the majority of our revenue on programming expenses, leaving little room for computer technology expenses.”

“The Cyber Fusion Center allows students to work in an educational environment while using real world tools and practices.” – Davin Zatorski

The Cyber Fusion Center, one of the most technology-rich spaces on campus, is driven by Apple hardware and software. Along with Mac computers and iPads, the Center is equipped with such state-of-the-art devices as a telepresence robot so clients can “meet” with students and faculty in real time — in the event of pressing concerns or for routine updates.

“Some cyber security issues will be resolved onsite quickly, while more serious data issues will be reported to subject matter experts,” says Loeffler. “Students will also work on developing more long-range and meaningful information protection solutions for clients.”

Students understand the CFC is valuable training ground.

“The CFC gives me tangible skills,” says Jonathan Tock, a junior in the cyber security program. “I enjoy the challenge of the ever-changing environment of cyber security and look forward to trying to stay one step ahead of hackers and those who compromise security.”

Senior Davin Zatorski says he enrolled in the program because the need for cyber security is relevant in all aspects of today’s connected lifestyle, so there’s a growing need for qualified job candidates.

“The Cyber Fusion Center allows students to work in an educational environment while using real world tools and practices,” Zatorski says. “This is a state-of-the-art facility and we’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to work here.”

The Cyber Fusion Center derives its name from the various data feeds students monitor and then integrate into actionable intelligence for clients. About 35 students work in the Center.

“The academic focus at Maryville is changing from ‘Let’s talk about it’ to ‘Let’s do it in real-world settings,’” says Loeffler. “In that regard, we are setting higher and more competitive standards for practical skills attainment for our students.”

The University and client agencies find tremendous value in the collaboration. Maryville students gain competitive skills and industry insight, while clients benefit in ways tailored to their mission.

“Maryville University is a valued partner in helping Mathews-Dickey foster the development of scholar athletes in various capacities, from computer technology, teaching and learning, and college and career readiness programming,” says Covington. “The strategic vision for Mathews-Dickey is to create a national replication model to help to transform the lives of inner city youth. The challenges are so great that in order to transform kids there must be a collective impact. The collective is better known as public-private partnerships. Maryville embodies this notion.”