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KnowBe4 Donates $1.75 Million to Anti-Phishing Research and to Train Students for a Widening Job Market

By Keith Morelli

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TAMPA (May 14, 2019) -- A prominent cybersecurity training company in Clearwater will donate $1.75 million in cash and software to the USF Foundation to teach and train Muma College of Business students to serve on the front lines in the growing battle with cyber threats.

The agreement, includes includes a $500,000 cash gift along with in-kind software and services valued at $1.25 million, was signed by Stu Sjouwerman, CEO of KnowBe4, a leader in security awareness training and simulated phishing platform that helps more than 25,000 organizations around the world build anti-phishing resilience within their information systems.

“Hackers today use social engineering to manipulate unsuspecting and unwary employees to grant them access to the data and information in the systems of our organizations,” said Sjouwerman. “We need to train those entering our workforce how to maintain security and how to protect themselves and their organizations from being exploited by the cyber criminals.”

KnowBe4’s gift will support three student-success-oriented initiatives over the next five years. Cash infusions of $250,000 will go into programs that provide the tools marketing majors will need to compete for positions in a widening job market; $125,000 into the Information Systems and Decision Sciences cyber research efforts and $125,000 into ISDS programming and analytics training for students.

 “Our vision is a win-win-win, full-fledged partnership between the USF Muma College of Business and KnowBe4,” said Moez Limayem, dean of the business college. “We couldn’t be prouder to have the backing of KnowBe4 for the benefit of our students, the college and the outside cyber security industry.”

The in-kind services, which will be implemented this fall, will include use of software developed and licensed by KnowBe4. Over time, students, faculty and staff will become eligible to earn a cyber-hygiene, anti-phishing resiliency certificate. In total, nearly 7,000 students, faculty and staff will be introduced to the KnowBe4 platform.

“Our efforts to ensure student success are enhanced by KnowBe4’s vision for a great partnership between KnowBe4 and the Muma College of Business,” said Limayem. “This will help us prepare our students in cyber hygiene and get them ready for successful business careers.”

The funding also will enable students to learn the skills they need to qualify for dozens of entry-level platform developer positions that specialize in Ruby on Rails, an MIT-licensed web application framework used by KnowBe4 and other cybersecurity firms.

“We are very excited to accelerate our software and analytics student club activity with this infusion,” said Manish Agrawal, ISDS Department chair. “The ISDS undergrad program is moving toward this type of open-source, core-platform development, analysis and design and the analytics and programming organizations within the college can continue to attract and grow student participation and improve their employment opportunities with this support.

“Students trained on the software will earn certificates in cyber resiliency and cyber hygiene,” he said. They will learn on the very software that KnowBe4 and other companies use to protect the intellectual property of their clients and therefore graduates will become more attractive to future employers.

The donation also will assist in the college’s effort to train students to earn jobs in business-to-business, inside tech sales. Half of the workforce at KnowBe4 is in sales, and this year alone, there is a demand to fill 150 entry-level tech sales positions.

In research, the funding will allow faculty to delve into social engineering, automation and machine learning surrounding anti-phishing campaign management. Dark-web hacking is becoming a major issue for consumers and corporations alike, Argawal said. More than 91 percent of data breaches begin as malicious phishing attacks and research into maintaining cyber-hygiene in organizations is critical to improved resiliency.

USF currently offers graduate and undergraduate degrees in cyber issues on several topics, ranging from cyber intelligence to digital forensics to information assurance, in the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Behavioral and Community Science, the Muma College of Business and the College of Engineering.

Building a cyber-centered curriculum is in response to a growing need for a workforce who knows how to protect systems against cyber intrusions. In the last few years, postings for cybersecurity-related jobs grew by more than 70 percent, according to a Computerworld report.

Besides offering degrees on cyber security, USF offers a slew of cyber-related certificates for working professionals. Additionally, the Florida Center for Cybersecurity, a state-funded organization created to positioning Florida as a leader in cybersecurity education and workforce development, is hosted at USF and works with all 12 state universities in coordinating research and developing curricula.

“We are so thankful that KnowBe4 is making this investment in the University of South Florida,” said Joel Momberg, USF Foundation CEO and senior vice president of advancement and alumni relations. “It speaks volumes when industry leaders in the technology sector see our students as the next cohort of experts in specialized fields such as this.”