Posted on April 24, 2023
Louisiana State University (LSU) and five Louisiana ports have forged a partnership to develop a pipeline of cybersecurity talent and technology in support of the state and the nation’s critical infrastructure. The collaboration, which grew out of the school’s “Scholarship First Agenda,” brings together the university’s burgeoning cybersecurity expertise with the river ports of Greater Baton Rouge, South Louisiana, New Orleans and St. Bernard, along with Port Fourchon, the state’s leading coastal energy port.
The memorandum of understanding between LSU and the ports makes the university their official academic research partner. Under the plan, LSU students and faculty will work with the ports to tackle both current and emerging cyber issues. The partnership could include the development of “cybersecurity testbeds,” or controlled cyber environments that allow for experimentation, along with joint research and broader collaboration with state and federal security and law enforcement agencies. According to the announcement from LSU, the partnership’s primary goal will be to create a pipeline of homegrown cyber talent for Louisiana.
The agreement builds on LSU’s designation in 2022 as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations by the National Security Agency (NSA).
“Like our students and research expertise, Louisiana’s port system impacts every corner of the state and has national and global reach,” LSU President William Tate said. “The Scholarship First Agenda elevates domains that meet citizens’ most pressing needs and define Louisiana’s role in the world. These areas—agriculture, biomedicine, coast, defense (including cybersecurity) and energy—all converge in Louisiana’s ports. Our designation last year by the [NSA] as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations, or CAE-CO, positions us as one of the best and most technical cybersecurity schools in the country, and we’re now connecting our talented students and experts with our friends here at Louisiana’s ports to tackle cybersecurity and critical infrastructure challenges across Louisiana.”
Ports Are Critical Infrastructure
The critical nature of Louisiana’s ports, specifically the five that are part of the LSU cybersecurity partnership, is clear. The ports of Greater Baton Rouge, South Louisiana, New Orleans and St. Bernard comprise the largest port complex in the world. Overall, 20 percent of all jobs in Louisiana rely on the state’s ports.
The Port of Greater Baton Rouge ranks eighth in total tonnage nationally and handles a wide range of commodities, including asphalt, coal, coffee, forest products, biomass, chemicals, oats, pipes, steel and sugar.
“As one of the country’s top ports in total tonnage, we pride ourselves in our ability to adapt to emerging needs,” said Jay Hardman, executive director of the Port of Greater Baton Rouge. “From our docks, we have direct lines of sight to both the Capitol and LSU’s campus, so we are well-positioned and excited to work with this group on cybersecurity challenges and talent development.”
The Port of South Louisiana is the second largest port in the Western Hemisphere by tonnage and the nation’s leading grain port. More than 60 percent of U.S. grain exports leave through the Port of South Louisiana, along with 100 million tons of petrochemical products exported annually. Both agricultural products and petrochemicals have national security and global security significance.
“The commerce that happens along the Lower Mississippi River at the Port of South Louisiana is intertwined with the national security of the United States,” Port of South Louisiana CEO Paul Matthews said. “This partnership with LSU and our sister ports will ensure that our state’s infrastructure and assets are protected in this ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape.”
In New Orleans, cybersecurity concerns extend to cruise ship traffic and container handling, in addition to bulk cargo ships, cargo handling and towboat and tugboat traffic. The Port of New Orleans operates the state’s only international container terminal and the nation’s sixth largest cruise business.
“Louisiana’s maritime assets create jobs and connect our state to global markets, and the Port of New Orleans is proud to partner with LSU and all Louisiana’s deepwater ports to raise the cybersecurity bar to ensure the highest levels of protection of our critical port infrastructure—now and into the future,” said Brandy Christian, president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans.
The only deep draft slackwater slip on the Lower Mississippi River is located within St. Bernard Port, which employs close to 20 percent of St. Bernard Parish. The port sees an annual average of more than 10 million tons of cargo move through its terminals.
“Given our unique position as a primary bulk handler of everything from metals for advanced manufacturing to fertilizer for our national and state food producers, as well as the only place on the Lower Mississippi with a deepwater slip, we fully recognize the importance of cybersecurity and protecting these assets,” said Drew Heaphy, executive director of St. Bernard Port. “We appreciate the opportunity to participate and look forward to working closely with LSU on talent development and retention and projects critical to our operations.”
Along the coast, almost all of the Gulf of Mexico’s offshore energy production and one-sixth of the nation’s oil supply are serviced by Port Fourchon in Lafourche Parish.
“Our agency has a rich history as a leader in cybersecurity-related affairs, as do the other ports we are joined with today for this announcement,” said Chett Chiasson, executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission. “We look forward to assisting with this worthwhile endeavor moving forward because we understand how vital cybersecurity is, for not only our region, but our nation.”
Besides the pipeline for expertise the partnership will foster, it will also enable LSU and partner ports to work with federal and other research groups in the fields of defense, homeland security and intelligence. LSU, which already operates student-run Security Operations Centers at its Baton Rouge and Shreveport campuses, will also offer threat intelligence and incident response for ports and the state’s cyber emergency response efforts.