• NSF Grant Helps MHCC, SBDC Secure Small Businesses

    New Cybersecurity Program Trains Professionals to Protect, Support Small Businesses From Hackers

    It seems that each week brings a new story about a major cyber-hack or intrusion resulting in a data breach that could effectively impact millions of consumers worldwide. However, what we hear less about is the affect these hacks have on small businesses and small business owners, and how more than half of small businesses that are attacked go out of business within six months.


    More and more, cyber criminals are targeting small businesses. Approximately 45 percent of hacks specifically target small businesses. Conversely, only 14 percent of small businesses believe they are highly effective in mitigating cyber risks, vulnerabilities and attacks. However, a National Science Foundation grant-funded program offered through Mt. Hood Community College’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC) focuses on moving the needle in favor of small businesses and business owners, providing these community-based organizations and professionals with the tools and know-how necessary to effectively secure their data and that of their customers. 

    The Cooperative Local Internships as a Novel Innovation in Cybersecurity (CLINIC) program launched in 2016 with 11 students from MHCC’s Cybersecurity and Networking degree program. CLINIC focuses on providing real-world experience for cybersecurity students by connecting them with local and regional small business owners. The cybersecurity professionals in-training analyze each business client’s network and security infrastructure and evaluate for any possible intrusions and weaknesses, including possible cyber hacks, operational processes, and any physical vulnerabilities, like securing access to server rooms. Once they’ve assessed a business’s needs, they advise business owners on cybersecurity safety measures.

    In 2018, the SBDC at MHCC was awarded a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund and expand CLINIC. The NSF grant will support the continued growth of CLINIC, as well as the development of the CyberOregon website and the creation of a toolbox that other businesses and institutions can use to launch similar cybersecurity clinics in their communities.

    Brooke Jelinek, a 2016 graduate of MHCC’s Cybersecurity and Networking program and a current IT professional with U.S. Bank in Portland, was part of the initial student cohort that helped to form CLINIC. Collaborating with CLINIC program founders Kedma Ough, innovation director for the SBDC at MHCC, and Wayne Machuca, MHCC instructor of Cybersecurity, she assisted in getting that initial model together.

    “We focused on creating a place that local small business representatives could come for advising and counseling in cybersecurity best practices,” said Jelinek. “So the goal is to answer the question of ‘What can I do better to protect my business and improve my IT operations?’”

    CLINIC advising covers the full range of cybersecurity operations, from setting up a secure wireless network to physically securing IT tools and equipment at the location of the business. The goal, said Ruth Swain, statewide cybersecurity coordinator with the Oregon SBDC, was to deliver the tools and identify the action items small businesses need to take to improve cybersecurity.

    “Right now, we’re creating the model that other SBDCs and colleges can implement,” said Swain. “It’s a model that’s seriously needed nationally.”

    The CLINIC initiative marks the first community-oriented partnership between MHCC’s Business, Computer Information Systems and Social Science program and the college's SBDC, as well as the first NSF grant supporting the college and SBDC’s cybersecurity programming.

    “It’s one awesome feather in MHCC’s cap to have the first-ever cybersecurity small business clinic,” said Kedma Ough, innovation director for the SBDC at MHCC. “And this grant has allowed us to develop and provide the CLINIC framework to other institutions around the country.”

    According to MHCC instructor of Cybersecurity, Wayne Machuca, "The CLINIC program is at the very heart of our commitment to the small business community by doing two things in particular: providing a skilled and affordable cyber workforce and offering general cyber certificates for the businesses who want to learn the skills themselves."

    Interested in studying cybersecurity and networking? Visit mhcc.edu/CyberSecurity to get started.

    Want to learn how the Small Business Development Center at MHCC can help you better secure your enterprise? Visit bizcenter.org/centers/mt-hood-sbdc to learn more.

    • Former MHCC Cybersecurity students Wil Myers, Jr., (front) and Shane Meyer study in a computer lab on campus.