By David Simpson

Old Dominion University has been awarded $1 million by the U.S. Small Business Administration to help small businesses in Virginia advance cybersecurity infrastructure and mitigate cyber threats.

ODU was one of six recipients of a $6 million Cybersecurity for Small Business Pilot Program grant announced Aug. 14 in Washington, D.C.

ODU’s principal investigator for the grant is Sachin Shetty, executive director at the Center for Secure and Intelligent Critical Systems, part of the Virginia Modeling, Analysis & Simulation Center (VMASC).

“Small businesses are increasingly becoming a target of cyberattacks, and many lack the resources to adequately protect themselves,” said Shetty, who is also a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

In 2021, out of the 34 million cyberattack attempts, 43% targeted small businesses, Shetty said, causing billions of dollars in losses. He pointed out that Virginia has a large concentration of federal and defense organizations, and many small businesses serve them.

“An attack on these businesses would have a catastrophic impact and lead to national security issues,” he said.   

The two-year award will fund the design and development of an integrated training and education program that ODU can use to help small businesses defend themselves from attack. Chitra, a small business in Virginia Beach, will help the University implement the program, Shetty said.

Brian Payne, ODU vice president for academic affairs, said the project “demonstrates our collective commitment to using our cybersecurity expertise to enhance economic and business development in our region.”

Co-principal investigators at ODU are Safdar Bouk, research assistant professor with VMASC, and Monique McWhite, director of the Center for Business Development.

The program will:

  • Provide cybersecurity assessments and create a report on each business's security posture.
  • Provide cybersecurity training to employees.
  • Assist small businesses in creating a cybersecurity plan and provide guidance on implementing the plan.
  • Provide ongoing cybersecurity support and guidance.

The five other Cybersecurity for Small Business Pilot Program grantees are the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade, the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, The Ohio State University, the State of Hawaii Cybersecurity Assistance for Small Businesses and the University of Wyoming.

“Cyber threats can be devastating to small businesses,” SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said in a press release. “The SBA’s Cybersecurity for Small Business Program leverages the full power of our state governments, territories, and institutions of higher learning to provide turnkey, timely solutions to small businesses, and I am excited to see this expansion across Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, Hawaii and Wyoming.”