MU receives $1.5 million NSA grant to build cybersecurity clinic

MU receives $1.5 million NSA grant to build cybersecurity clinic


The National Security Agency (NSA) has selected Marymount University to build and operate a cybersecurity clinic through a $1.5 million grant, covering a two-year timeframe that begins in July 2023. The initiative aims to increase the cybersecurity capabilities of small businesses and nonprofits in the DMV region by helping them prevent, detect and respond to cyber threats.

Marymount, already designated as a National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD), is one of just four institutions nationwide to receive the NSA grant.

“After launching solely as a graduate certificate in 2008, Marymount’s Cybersecurity program has blossomed into a leader in the national capital region, serving students at the undergraduate, master’s and doctoral levels,” said Dr. Irma Becerra, President of Marymount University. “We are at the forefront of innovation, as we help students from all backgrounds and walks of life take the lead on protecting our digital world.”

Every year, cyberattacks result in billions of dollars of damage to the U.S. economy, impacting both individuals and organizations alike. Nearly 43 percent of cyberattacks target small and medium-sized businesses, according to a cybercrime study by Accenture.

“Hackers – whether they are bad actors or operating on behalf of a foreign government – target small businesses because they typically have weaker cybersecurity measures,” explained Dr. Diane Murphy, Director of Marymount University’s School of Technology and Innovation and the project lead for the institution’s cybersecurity clinic initiative. “These businesses are also part of the overall supply chain, and access to their systems can be used to infiltrate government agencies and larger private companies to whom they are connected.”

In the face of these threats, only 14 percent of small and medium-sized businesses are prepared to face cyberattacks. The U.S. Small Business Administration credits this to businesses not being able to afford professional IT solutions, having limited time to devote to cybersecurity or simply not knowing where to begin. Marymount’s cybersecurity clinic aims to provide the remedy to these issues, and will begin with an initial cohort of small businesses and nonprofits in the Arlington community before extending its reach geographically.

In addition, the clinic will give Marymount’s Cybersecurity students the chance to participate in experiential learning opportunities that lead to industry certifications, enhanced training and hands-on experience of foundational cybersecurity skills that include risk management, cryptography and vulnerability testing.

“We are excited for our faculty and students to engage with small businesses and nonprofits, many of which play an integral role in our federal government and supply chain, to increase our national security,” Dr. Murphy added. “On top of helping organizations in our community protect their digital infrastructure and data, our Marymount students can prove themselves ready for employment in any cybersecurity setting, whether in industry or the government.”

Leading this Marymount project with Dr. Murphy are co-principal investigators Dr. Andrew Hall, Associate Professor of Cybersecurity, and Dr. Alex Mbaziira, Assistant Professor of Cybersecurity. All faculty in the University’s School of Technology and Innovation, within Marymount’s College of Business, Innovation, Leadership and Technology (BILT), will be engaging with their students on this initiative.