The Bold Plan to Create Cyber 311 Hotlines

The idea for the UT-Austin project grew out of discussions in CISA’s Cybersecurity Advisory Committee, a group of experts from the private sector, academia, civil society and local government. When talking about a university running a community cyber helpline, Austin quickly emerged as an ideal candidate, thanks to his already popular 311 service and the support of two committee members: Steve Adler, Austin’s mayor at the time, and Chesney, an influential one UT faculty member.

CISA Director Jen Easterly has championed the project and said recently to the Advisory Board that her agency will consider implementing a statewide Cyber ​​311 system after evaluating Austin’s new clinic and similar efforts.

“The UT-Austin pilot is helping us better understand how we can provide cybersecurity services to small and medium-sized businesses across our country,” Easterly said in a statement, adding that she’s “really excited” about it.

establishment of a clinic

The UT-Austin Clinic will take the form of a two-semester course. In the fall, Francesca Lockhart, a former senior Texas Homeland Security official whom Chesney hired to lead the project, will teach students cybersecurity skills and they will work with local organizations and businesses to give students time to learn how those organizations work and what you need. In the spring, student teams will then create and implement plans to improve cybersecurity for their customers.

Lockhart’s curriculum includes lessons such as inventorying the devices on a network, scanning and fixing known vulnerabilities, configuring a firewall, conducting penetration testing, and understanding the Linux operating system and the Python programming language commonly used to diagnose and fix security problems become .

The 20 participants in the opening class include students majoring in business administration and computer science, but also students in biochemistry and international relations. Lockhart is still evaluating a number of potential clients, including small businesses. nonprofit organizations that support at-risk populations in Austin; neighboring school districts and municipalities; and startups focused on fighting hunger, disease, and other social ills.

According to Lockhart, the clinic “represents a great opportunity to provide students with hands-on work experience and to fill the cybersecurity workforce gap while serving the needs of some of these underfunded organizations.”

An extension to a type 311 service is a long way off. “You have to walk before you run,” says Chesney.

Extension of the scope

For Steve Adler, former Mayor of Austin, a cyber helpline would be a natural extension of the UT-Austin project.

Austin’s 311 service is already receiving calls from people fearful of phishing scams and other low-level cyberattacks. The next step would be to create a routing system so 311 staff could route certain calls to UT-Austin students who are trained to handle a variety of common incidents. “It could expand the scope of what people think a 311 call would cover,” says Adler, who served as mayor from 2015 to 2023.

Another state is already promoting this idea. Later this year, Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts will do so open a security operations center (SOC) to answer emergency calls from the community. The 24/7 SOC, created in cooperation with a government-funded consortiumwill be staffed by professional cyber experts, however students will have the opportunity to observe and participate in their work.

Zack Zwiezen

Zack Zwiezen is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Zack Zwiezen joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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