State-owned cyberwarfare training facility planned for Georgia

Gov. Nathan Deal will unveil plans Wednesday for a new state-owned training center that’s designed to teach students and educators how to combat hacking and other forms of cyberwarfare, an announcement that comes as the U.S. intensifies its efforts to bolster the security of the nation’s computer systems.

The Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center is to be built near the U.S. Army’s Cyber Command headquarters in Augusta and will include a “cyber range,” where cyberwarfare training and technology development unfolds, Deal plans to say in his State of the State address.

The center is being developed with the Department of Defense and the National Security Agency and is likely to cost tens of millions of dollars. Deal said the center is poised to “put Georgia at the pinnacle of efforts to enhance American cybersecurity in the public and private arenas.”

It will be constructed on about 17 acres of land near the Savannah River that was once slated for a Georgia Golf Hall of Fame facility. Deal’s office envisions it as a public-private partnership with professors, private industry and government work to develop new cybersecurity standards.

“We have a need for this in Georgia,” said Chris Riley, Deal’s chief of staff. “In our k-12 system and in our higher education system, we need to educate and train Georgians to prepare them for jobs in the cybersecurity field.”

There are a handful of state-owned “cyber ranges” in the nation, including in Arizona, Michigan, Rhode Island and Virginia. But Georgia officials said the proposed training center would be one of the few to work with the private sector, local colleges and the military.

The new Georgia center would be near the cyber command headquarters at Fort Gordon, a $180 million facility that broke ground in late 2016. The complex is expected to employ more than 1,200 soldiers, civilians and contractors by the end of the decade.

Fort Gordon is already home to a major NSA facility with thousands of employees, as well as the U.S. Army Signal Center, which is the heart of the Army’s communications network. In all, the Defense Department plans to invest $2.1 billion in Fort Gordon to make it the home for the nation’s future cyberwarriors.

Intelligence officials are calling for more attention to cybersecurity amid warnings that Russia orchestrated the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s top campaign adviser.

President-elect Donald Trump, too, has called for more security to ward off hackers, warning that "somebody sitting on their bed" at home can wreak havoc on the nation's computer networks.

The governor’s office said the center will be able to collaborate with about seven different universities and private industries to provide training on the latest computer skills and techniques. It would research information security advances and house an incubator hub for cybersecurity startup companies to spawn new industries.

A list of courses that the facility would offer includes disaster recovery workshops, cloud security training and cyber analysis certification, according to state documents.

It is modeled in part after another state-owned facility for industry training. The Georgia Film Academy opened last year on a bustling Pinewood Studios campus in Fayette County, complete with a teaching stoundstage on site. Hundreds of students are to be trained to work in the state’s booming movie industry.

The governor’s office said Defense Department officers and officials from other military intelligence agencies will be on hand Wednesday for the State of the State address, where Deal will highlight the facility as a centerpiece of his funding proposal.

He said Tuesday that he sees the growing industry as a cornerstone to the state’s economy.

“The reality is cybersecurity is important because cybercrime is now bigger than the global black market in marijuana, cocaine and heroin combined,” Deal said. “It speaks volumes that Georgia will be home to this center of innovation and cyberdefense. This will be yet another star in our expanding constellation of excellence.”