NMT Leading Effort To Help Businesses With  Department of Defense Certification

August 21, 2020

$771,000 grant will help businesses meet new federal cybersecurity requirements

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SOCORRO, N.M.  – New Mexico Tech’s Cybersecurity Center for Excellence is embarking on a multi-year project to help photonics companies satisfy new cybersecurity certification requirements with the U.S. Department of Defense.

The New Mexico Economic Development Department, through its Office of Science and Technology, has received a $771,000 grant from the Department of Defense to pioneer a cybersecurity awareness and preparedness training initiative, Cabinet Secretary Alicia J. Keyes announced on August 12.

Dr. Lorie M. Liebrock, Director of the Cybersecurity Center of Excellence at NMT, said the new grant, “is part of ramping up the Center of Excellence through external funding. We are leveraging the expertise we have in New Mexico to help businesses meet the security requirements of the Department of Defense.”

All Department of Defense contractors must adhere to the new Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) guidelines and this grant will focus on educating and preparing New Mexico businesses to meet the requirements, which begin to take effect at the end of the year.

NMT will kick off the project with a survey of companies to see how prepared they are for certification, and what sort of Department of Defense contracts are active in New Mexico.

“We will lead a workshop with the N.M. Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the CMMC specialist at EMRTC, Alan Roes,” Liebrock said. “We will then do an analysis to select the companies for individual support. … The photonics and optics industry is a surprisingly large sector. We’ll be working with the Economic Development Department to expand the program and make cybersecurity  services available to other Department of Defense vendors and maybe to other government agencies.”

The program will use the surveys and workshops to select 10 companies for individual attention. They will receive $10,000 of cybersecurity services from the Center for Excellence and from cybersecurity companies to help them fix problematic areas in their infrastructure.

New Mexico Tech will hire a cybersecurity outreach coordinator for the Cybersecurity Center for Excellence. The outreach coordinator will assist with contacting companies and coordinating this work, which will allow Liebrock and her colleagues to focus on this project.

Liebrock said the project has already brought on two graduate students to work on implementing the training workshops, web design, and database management. NMT will hire more undergraduates to assist in the program.

"Cybersecurity is one of the industries targeted by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham for additional state investment," Cabinet Secretary Keyes said. “This grant means we can do more to assist businesses in applying for, and hopefully receiving, federal contracts to expand in this sector – and that means better jobs in New Mexico.”

The New Mexico Office of Science and Technology is working with stakeholders, including the Governor's Office, N.M. Councils of Governments, N.M. Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Procurement Technical Assistance Center, the N.M. Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, at New Mexico Tech, and others, to help deliver the required training and implement a statewide cybersecurity training plan.

The training will initially focus on optics and photonics technology-based businesses and, with the help of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, will evaluate individual cybersecurity needs. Liebrock said she expects the federal government to expand the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification to all agencies in the future.

 The first phase will include:

  • Cybersecurity workshops for 70-100 photonics/optics companies starting January through March 2021 and expected to be delivered online.
  • One-on-one cybersecurity assistance through MEP and NMCCoE, who will then connect each business with one or more cybersecurity service providers in New Mexico.
  • The grant will pay up to $10,000 for each connected company for cybersecurity services to evaluate systems and assist with cybersecurity upgrades (April to June 2021).

The Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification accreditation is a new unified standard for implementing cybersecurity across the defense industrial base. Getting businesses up to speed with the new requirements will help government contractors remain competitive and keep jobs in New Mexico. In addition to helping businesses with cyber resiliency, this initiative will result in the development of a statewide cybersecurity program. It will also build upon the New Mexico direct enterprise connect portal mapping tool that is available at NMDEC.NET.

“This grant will allow New Mexico businesses to meet the new cybersecurity requirements and remain competitive in applying for government contracts," Office of Science and Technology Director Myrriah Tomar, PhD, said. "Most importantly, businesses will have the tools they need to protect sensitive data and deter cyber-attacks.”

The defense sector has a huge impact on New Mexico’s economy, with over 500 private defense suppliers. Based on a 2017 New Mexico Defense Industry Report, the highest amount of defense spending is focused on professional, scientific, and technical services.

From September through December 2020, NMCCoE and MEP will be identifying companies to participate in the cohort, will assess their cybersecurity needs, and will deliver workshops that are customized to meet those needs.

– NMT –