S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster's recently released executive budget includes $15 million for the South Carolina National Guard to begin construction of the innovative DreamPort Cybersecurity Collaborative facility at USC Aiken, according to a news release from the university.

The purpose of the DreamPort facility will be to increase the state's cyber response capabilities through partnerships to keep pace with increasing cyber threats and technology initiatives.

"I am thrilled to hear the governor has recommended $15 million for the National Guard's DreamPort Collaborative, which will be located on the campus of USC Aiken," Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon, USCA class of ’93, said in the release. "The City of Aiken is glad to be able to assist the National Guard as it continues to protect our security in the cyber domain.

"The cyber network in this region is ever increasing, and we are glad to know that Aiken will be at the heart of it all. Many thanks to Dr. (Sandra) Jordan who coordinated with the National Guard to bring attention to this initiative and help foster critical partnerships, which made it happen."

The South Carolina National Guard DreamPort facility will provide classified and unclassified environments where experts can solve some of the most pressing challenges in the cyber realm and use the South Carolina National Guard's cyber security expertise to the benefit of the state.

"The university is honored to partner with the National Guard in this important way," USCA Chancellor Dr. Sandra Jordan said. "The DreamPort Collaborative will bring cyber expertise to our campus, providing our cyber security faculty and students access to some of the best trained cyber experts in America and giving them opportunities to interface with, work alongside and learn from leaders in this field.

"We are grateful for the support of Aiken and Aiken County's leadership and our local legislative delegation serving in the statehouse who are aware of the state's cyber needs and the threats that continue to emerge on a daily basis, and thus, have supported this unique initiative and worked to ensure it was part of the governor's budget."

The new facility, to be located in close proximity to the Savannah River National Laboratory's Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative on the USC Aiken campus, will create a space for cyber experts in the private, government and academic sectors to work closely with Fort Gordon's Cyber Operations and the Savannah River National Laboratory's cyber researchers.

The DreamPort Collaboration facility has been made possible in part by the support of U.S. Army Maj. Gen. R. Van McCarty, the adjutant general for South Carolina, and U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Brad Owens, South Carolina National Guard director of joint staff, who have embraced the initiative and the need for the secure cyber facility in the current cyber environment.

"Cyber-crimes can impact state and federal governments, affect military operations and even threaten national security," McCarty said. "With the current cyber environment, we know it is increasingly important to find ways to mitigate this threat. Through this partnership with USC Aiken and the support of Governor McMaster, we are taking steps toward protecting the citizens of South Carolina and deterring the efforts of those individuals capable of employing a cyber-attack."

The South Carolina National Guard has one of the five cyber protection battalions in the Army National Guard, the 125th Cyber Battalion, which is currently headquartered at McEntire Joint National Guard Base.

South Carolina National Guard soldiers conduct advanced cybersecurity training courses, certifications and collective training to employ individual cyber protection skills to defend networks by leveraging military cyber capabilities. The unit recently returned from a mobilization to the National Capital Region in support of a federal mission, while also supporting a detachment postured for state missions.

"I applaud Gen. McCarty and Gen. Owens' extraordinary vision," Jordan said. "While addressing the needs of the National Guard, they have created a way to expand their cyber expertise to impact the entire region and state, and by leveraging the SRNL and higher education, they have contributed to building a future cyber workforce. The DreamPort will become a place where business and industry will work with the National Guard to focus on cyber solutions."

Fighting cyber-attacks has become a necessity for all industries, a significant risk and a major expense across all business sectors, including smaller businesses, according to the release.

A study by the Ponemon Institute released in October, titled, “The Global State of Small and Medium Businesses Cybersecurity,” said 69% of U.S. organizations reported the loss of sensitive corporate or customer information in the 12 months before the study. This figure represents an increase from 50% just four years ago.

According to the Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker, this cybersecurity project will provide tremendous benefits for the United States, for South Carolina and for Aiken County.

"It will integrate and leverage cyber defense capabilities, research, education and workforce development initiatives,” he said. “The institutions that will be connected by this project include the South Carolina National Guard; the Savannah River National Laboratory's Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative, which will be built at USC Aiken; Aiken Technical College; the Aiken County Public School System; the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center at USC Aiken, which will offer the Governor's CyberPatriot Bootcamp; and Fort Gordon, the future home of the U.S. Army's Cyber Command."

Bunker added that there are several additional benefits that will come about due to this project, specifically, it will "leverage state and federal participants and funding sources, take advantage of the state's unique and world-class talents, and attract cyber-focused business.”

"Educationally, by providing a comprehensive K-through-16 cyber training environment, it will create an in-state talent pipeline for future growth,” Bunker said. “This project's access to secure research and technology will provide a competent cybersecurity complex within South Carolina.

"Besides the national security aspect, this project will provide important state and regional economic development benefits. It will provide an environment for entrepreneurs, nontraditional companies, small business, industry, and academics to develop new technologies in support of our cyber warriors."

​Larry Wood covers education for the Aiken Standard.