A major cybersecurity initiative that began as a state budget item and grew into a blueprint is becoming a reality.

The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI), a $25-million effort funded in the 2018-20 Virginia budget, calls on higher education institutions and industry to build an ecosystem of cyber-related research, education, and engagement. The goal is to position Virginia as a leader where cybersecurity meets data analytics, machine learning, and autonomous systems.

An international search is being launched to recruit CCI’s inaugural executive director. The search committee includes stakeholders from across the commonwealth who helped develop the CCI blueprint. Isaacson Miller has been retained to support the recruitment.

“The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative represents a major step toward making Virginia a leader in the new cyber economy, and it’s exciting to see it begin to take shape,” said Theresa Mayer, vice president for research and innovation at Virginia Tech. “Success will require partners from every corner of the state bringing their expertise to the table to help CCI reach its full potential.”

Members of the search committee are:

  • Theresa Mayer, Vice President for Research and Innovation, Virginia Tech (chair)
  • Charles Clancy, Executive Director, Hume Center for National Security and Technology, Virginia Tech
  • Deb Crawford, Vice President for Research, George Mason University
  • James Dyke, Sr. Advisor, State Government Relations, McGuireWoods Consulting LLC
  • Todd Estes, Director, Career Education Programs & Workforce Partnerships, Virginia Community College System
  • Luke Lester, Department Head, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Virginia Tech
  • Michael Lewis, Chair, Computer Science, William and Mary
  • Wenjing Lou, W.C. English Professor, Computer Science, Virginia Tech
  • Gretchen Matthews, Professor, Mathematics, Virginia Tech
  • Song Li, Assistant Professor, Crop and Soil Environmental Science, Virginia Tech
  • Brian Payne, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Old Dominion University
  • Melur Ramasubramanian, Vice President for Research, University of Virginia
  • Jeff Reed, Willis G. Worcester Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Virginia Tech
  • Sharon Simmons, Department Head, Computer Science, James Madison University
  • Erdem Topsakal, Chair, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Chris Yianilos, Executive Director, Government Relations, Virginia Tech

The CCI provides for cyber-physical system security research and technology commercialization, as well as cybersecurity workforce development through a primary “hub” in Northern Virginia and a network of regional “node” sites across the state.

Beginning in June, the first nodes will be certified by the Virginia Research Investment Committee. Groups across the commonwealth are building partnerships and programs that will form the foundation for CCI.

The CCI is taking off at a time when digital technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, providing exponentially more opportunities for computer-savvy criminals to steal personal data, influence public opinion, and threaten critical infrastructure.

Cyber and cyber-physical system security represents a major opportunity for economic growth and diversification in Virginia through investment in research, technology commercialization and workforce development, according to the Virginia Research Investment Committee, which will oversee CCI.

“The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative is building an ecosystem of cyber-related research, education, and engagement that will position the commonwealth as a leader in cybersecurity,” said President Tim Sands. “We’re excited about the opportunities this will create for our students, researchers, and partners across Virginia.”

Charles Clancy, executive director of Virginia Tech's Hume Center for National Security and Technology and the Bradley Distinguished Professor of Cybersecurity in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, will serve as the interim executive director of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative.

Clancy is recognized internationally for his research at the intersection of wireless, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence due in part to his strong record of sponsored research, scholarship, and entrepreneurship. He has served as the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on $52 million in externally funded projects, and launched four university spin-off companies that have raised more than $120 million in venture capital. His expertise in wireless security has led to three invitations to testify at hearings on Capitol Hill since 2017. He serves as a key advisor to CTIA, the primary industry group for the U.S. wireless sector, as they engage with the FCC and other stakeholders on cybersecurity regulation.

During CCI blueprint development, Clancy co-led a Research and Technology Commercialization working group, which focused on how CCI can build an ecosystem of cyber innovation across the commonwealth.

“Charles has been a key thought leader in Virginia’s approach to cybersecurity research and education,” Mayer said. “I’m excited that he will lead CCI into its next phase.”

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