Georgia Unveils Massive Cybersecurity Investment to Protect Against Emerging Threats

The state of Georgia has set aside $50 million to construct an innovation and training facility that helps state and local agencies better respond to cyber threats.

"The Peach State" has more than 30 systems across 16 state agencies that house highly-sensitive financial or public safety information, according to Calvin Rhodes, Georgia's CIO. The state has focused its resources on protecting these high-impact systems from data loss, he said.

"If something's in trouble, then we get rolled in to go put out the fire," Rhodes told the attendees of XChange SLED 2017, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company.

[Related: Survey: Cloud, Security, Managed Services Are Driving Double-Digit Solution Provider SLED Revenue Growth]

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Georgia has a security contract that pre-qualifies 21 IT services firms to do security work inside the various appendages of state government.

These firms have been scored in four or five technology-specific categories, Rhodes said, and the state has hammered out all the requisite terms and conditions so that individual agencies can quickly put the security experts to work.

Rhodes said he is working to develop a security-focused culture of awareness, preparedness and resiliency throughout Georgia's government, with the state leveraging technology vendor partners to help with identifying and mitigating gaps in its security ecosystem.

Much has changed since Georgia could use firewalls to build a border around all of the state's key data, Rhodes said. As the prospect of keeping everything on-premises becomes less and less appealing, Rhodes said the state has tried to balance maintain vigilant security while providing agencies with the flexibility to move workloads to the cloud.

In the medium- and long-term, Georgia expects to take the next step in developing cybersecurity expertise through its Cyber Innovation and Training Center, which Rhodes said is expected to be up and running within 18 months.

The center will link the cybersecurity classroom skills students get in university with lab settings at technical colleges to ensure the industry's future workforce can apply its knowledge in real-life scenarios.

The state will also have an incubator to provide cybersecurity startups with virtually rent-free space through partnerships with institutions such as Georgia Tech, Augusta University and the University of Georgia.

The state police additionally plan to open up a cybercrime unit within the center, Rhodes said, to provide more resources around investigating illicit activities on the internet.

All told, Georgia devoted $683 million from its most recent $51 billion state budget to address IT issues. Some $200 million of the IT spend was focused exclusivity on infrastructure, Rhodes said.

Cybersecurity has been the biggest issue facing public sector and commercial clients of Zealyx, with not many customers feeling they do it well today, according to program manager Kevin Dang.

The Los Angeles-based solution provider leans heavily on vendors such as Microsoft for help around securing the environments of government and education end users since Zealyx doesn't have the capabilities to do so in its own.

Dang said emerging threats and compliance requirements have resulted in a renewed focus around securing data.