USC Aiken leads fight against cyber-attacks with student-powered Regional Security Operations Center

The University of South Carolina Aiken is at the forefront of the region's cybersecurity infrastructure with the launch of its student-led Security Operations Center (SOC). The center opened last fall to serve campus cybersecurity needs and is expanding to assist with the needs of local municipalities and school districts.

The USC Aiken SOC was developed in November 2022 to allow the university to monitor and secure its own network. Ernest Pringle, Vice Chancellor for Information Technology and CIO, says, "In our business, network security is paramount. All types of cyber attacks are being orchestrated on the dark web, and we must ensure the protection of student data, faculty research and our network infrastructure, all things bad actors would want to take advantage of."

The SOC offers hands-on learning opportunities to students majoring in cybersecurity, a program added to the College of Sciences and Engineering in 2021. These students gain practical work experience in a teaching lab where they analyze incoming data and network activities to prevent cyber attacks before they happen.

The center is staffed by Director of Technology Operations Chris Clark, who oversees network security, and Senior Security Analyst Adam Boese, who was part of USC Aiken's first group of student SOC employees, as well as three paid student positions.

"We are growing our own here," Pringle says. "Adam was an older student who fit right into the leadership role, and we have a waiting list of students who are excited to work in the lab. The goal ultimately is to involve as many students as we can. Employers like students who have had real-life experience."

That goal will become a reality as the university transitions the SOC to an RSOC, or Regional Security Operations Center, to offer cybersecurity services to other institutions. USC Aiken is under preliminary discussions to work with the Aiken County Public School District and the Town of Wagener.

Pringle explains, "School districts and municipalities have traditionally been underfunded when it comes to technology and cybersecurity. We are trying to help those underfunded groups get ahead before security breaches occur."

As the center expands its services to other organizations, more student positions can be funded. Scott McKay, Dean of the College of Sciences and Engineering, says, "As a state university we will provide services to assist vulnerable infrastructure and organizations until they can establish and maintain their cybersecurity goals. We have a wealth of highly trained staff, faculty, and students in cybersecurity and information technology excited to be able to assist our region's stakeholders."

Development of the cybersecurity program and RSOC have coincided with a larger-scale movement of cybersecurity infrastructure to the local area. In 2020, the U.S. Army moved its Cyber Command headquarters from Virginia to Augusta, and the S.C. National Guard is investing $30 million for a cybersecurity innovation center on USC Aiken's campus. Once complete, the new complex will allow students to work alongside cyber soldiers, offering them experience from the federal government perspective.

"This movement has generated a lot of energy in our area," Pringle says. "We want to take advantage of that buzz and take care of the pressing need to monitor and secure our network. At the same time, our academic arm recognized that buzz and began to create these opportunities for our students through the cybersecurity major and SOC."

McKay adds, "The RSOC is a very important project for the region, state, and beyond. It is one of the most intentional efforts to leverage university resources to partner with government, agencies, and industry cyber professionals to meet the growing cybersecurity needs on a regional and state scale." 

For more information, contact Leigh Thomas,