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Jaylan Mobley is the first West Virginia National Guard Fellow working at Marshall University at the Institute for Cyber Security, or ICS. He also serves as the state’s first cybersecurity officer, where he acts as a source of expertise in preventing cyber attacks for the West Virginia National Guard.
Reporter David Adkins spoke Mobley to find out more about his job.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Adkins: As the state’s first cybersecurity officer, how does it feel to be able to give others the opportunity to enter the cybersecurity field?
Mobley: I mean, it feels great. I’m just happy to, you know, to not only be the first, but to be able to open doors for others behind me. To be a part of everything that’s going on, because it’s new within the state, I just want to help others be a part of it. I know that cyber training is long, and is extensive, whether that’s army, or in school. I just want to be able to inspire others to want to join it within West Virginia.
Adkins: What is the curriculum for the Marshall ICS going to look like?
Mobley: This program that we’re starting at Marshall, will allow people to get a great foundation for cybersecurity, whether you’re starting from ground zero, or you’re intermediate, to have a place where you can come and build your cyber skills. Vendors from the outside will also be coming in and setting up certain competitions; the equipment will already be there. That’s what these cyber ranges will provide us: an opportunity for people to come and train and this will be big, partially for the National Guard, and for, I would say, all schools in West Virginia, because there’s going to be an effort from all sides to kind of shake hands and grow cybersecurity within the state.
Adkins: What has it been like helping out at the Institute’s foundation, and being able to help build the program?
Mobley: Marshall is trying to go in a way of cybersecurity, where many different things can be offered, whether they’re security clearances, or certifications for students, but for that to happen and for the DoD to fund that type of stuff, the curriculum needs to be a certain way. I’m going to be kind of at that foundational level because this is my first time doing it, and I kind of want to walk before I run. Personally, this is what I’ve talked to other faculty about: it’s like one thing to learn something, but it’s different to teach it. I know that this was going to help me in my professional career, to be able to convey certain things to soldiers or civilians, and to our students, so I’m just kind of thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of Marshall’s team.
Adkins: What has the cooperation between Marshall and the National Guard been like?
Mobley: I think that everybody’s on the same page. Usually, what tends to happen is, when you’re working with more than one organization, there’s always some pushback, and with this I haven’t felt any. Everybody wants us to work. Nobody is trying to get one over on the other, and that’s just kind of the beauty of it; I think if it stays that way, then it’s going to be awesome.
We’re looking for the leadership, we’re looking for career opportunities for others who want to be a part of it. The National Guard has certain things, like personnel with security clearances, different types of training, and just understanding from the DoD perspective of how everything works, and then just kind of conveying that to the university and just putting hands and minds together to say: ‘how do we do this? How do we make this work for the state? How can everybody benefit from it or win from it?’
Adkins: How important do you think is the threat of cyber attacks?
Mobley: This is something that we call open-source intelligence. Everything is kind of connected to a network, whether that’s a cell phone or a plane: anything that’s connected to the internet is connected to a network that needs to be defended, needs to be scanned, it’s really that important. We’ve seen over numerous times, different organizations/ companies being hacked, and how much of an impact it has on that company or organization. If we’re speaking from a level of one to 10, I would say, definitely a 10. This field is going to dictate the future for many people. The opportunities I feel are unlimited. People are just going to need it more so we can protect and defend against adversaries; domestic and international.
Adkins: What originally inspired you to study cyber security?
Mobley: I went to Georgia Military College and I joined a program called the Early Commissioner program, which is ECP for officers, a Junior Military College. I think there’s only four left. While I was there, I was just trying to do something that would tailor towards my Army career. So whether it was engineering, I would try to go be an engineer officer, whether it was aviation, or trying to go into the aeronautics field. Cybersecurity, or computer science, was like one of the growing things in the army, and so I said, ‘Well, you know what, I think I’m gonna take a shot at it and see what works out.’ One of the things that I loved was, every day you learn something new.
Adkins: How vital do you believe was the hands on experience you got as an intern at NASA.
Mobley: During my studies at WVU, when I was doing my undergrad, I went to a school fair, and I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was walking around, looking for a kind of junior year job, so when I graduated I would be set up, and one of the good things about the military that they kind of set you up for success, and one of the things that I knew that I kind of had an edge on was I had a security clearance. So I knew that a lot of companies were like, ‘okay, this guy’s kind of already set up for us.’ But I went up and I was talking to a guy and we were just having a conversation. I was just expressing my interest in cybersecurity, talking about certain things that I’ve learned along the way, and he mentioned NASA, and so I applied to NASA, and that was probably one of my greatest experiences there, because of the intensity that we went through as far as training.
They took us through a red phase blue phase, and into a little bit of white phase, which is offense/ defense. It was like a capture-the-satellite type simulation. I was on a blue team, pretty much our job was to defend the network to defend the satellite for two weeks. NASA already kind of has the ability to have certain equipment, certain tools, and software that you don’t normally get while you’re in school. To have that ability to get hands on to see certain things that you wouldn’t normally see was very special, and I was thankful to be a part of it because it really set me apart from my peers going into my senior year in college. Whether I’m applying to a job, or we’re in a class and we’re going over certain cybersecurity tools, and kind of already know what it’s like to use it and be able to teach it.
Adkins: What was it like balancing a career in the national guard, getting your master’s from West Virginia University, all while in the middle of a pandemic?
Mobley: Yeah, it was a bit of a challenge. I actually was dealing with three things. So, when I went off to the Basic Officer leadership course, I was doing that which is one of the toughest schools in the army. Not only that, we were dealing with COVID, and I also was getting knee surgery and at the same time that I was also doing my masters. So I was doing four or five things at once and just trying to time manage those things. One of the things I’ve learned being in the military is, leaning on others and asking others for help if you need it, and just learning to time manage along the way and learn how to not to put all your eggs in one basket. So, just to be flexible.