Maine firm brings cybersecurity know-how to Marquette

With hacking, ransomware and identity theft on the rise, cybersecurity is playing an increasingly vital role in businesses and private lives. 

The Northcross Group (NCG), a cybersecurity firm based in Portland, Maine, has come to Marquette to help Northern Michigan University (NMU) develop a new workforce with up-to-date knowledge and to work with local businesses to hone their cybersecurity skills.  

The company is working with NMU and the university’s Upper Peninsula Cybersecurity Institute (UPCI) to develop cybersecurity, computer science and risk management capabilities for the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. The Northcross Group offers internship opportunities across the U.P. 

“NCG entered into an academic partnership with NMU and UPCI to help support cybersecurity program development and help build commercial cybersecurity opportunities in the region,” explains Christopher Bender, president of the Northcross Group. As part of that effort, NCG opened an office in Marquette.

Courtesy of Northern Michigan UniversityThe partnership’s focus is NCG’s cybersecurity internship program. The firm also supports UPCI programming and events and works with NMU and UPCI teams on strategic planning and community outreach.  

NMU offers a bachelor of science degree in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense endorsed by the National Security Agency, as well as non-credit certificate programs. 

The Northcross Group also actively recruits cybersecurity and technology talent in the U.P. to develop cybersecurity and technology professionals for careers working with NCG clients across the globe — as well as bringing world-class services to the U.P. business market, Bender says.  

NCG has also started working with Michigan Technological University in Houghton.  Michigan Tech has been designated by the National Security Agency as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense. The university offers a bachelor of science degree in cybersecurity. 

The Northcross Group first engaged with Northern Michigan University in 2020, while conducting defense industrial base training sessions for a new Department of Defense cybersecurity program, Bender says. NCG learned about NMU’s efforts through its UP Cybersecurity Institute to promote talent development in cybersecurity and prepare people for a wide range of professional opportunities protecting data and systems.

UPCI was building relationships with industry to gain input on program direction, develop cybersecurity talent and foster regional cybersecurity business development.  UPCI’s work aligned with many of NCG’s own efforts, Bender says. His company has run an internship program for more than 16 years and has worked with other university technology, cybersecurity and risk management programs.

The Northcross Group is also a board member of InvestUP, a regional economic development organization that works to promote the U.P. by attracting and helping grow businesses and developing, attracting and retaining talent. 

Northcross Group-NMU partnership

“This partnership allows our students to pursue a unique, embedded-learning experience mentored by top-tier professionals,” says David Nyberg, director of corporate engagement at NMU. “It also enables the Northcross Group to grow its consulting services to support businesses, governments and institutions in the Upper Midwest.”

The partnership with the Northcross Group adds meaningful value to Northern's growing cybersecurity programs, Nyberg says.

David Nyberg “Through its  internship program, students are able to apply their learning by providing services to clients across the world, adding a unique experience to their academic journey at NMU that may also lead to a career in cybersecurity consulting.” 

Northcross Group leadership also serves on NMU's Cybersecurity Industry Advisory Committee, providing valuable input to the university's cybersecurity programs and curricula, which is essential to the university’s designation as a U.S. Department of Homeland Security and National Security Agency Center of Academic Excellence, Nyberg says.

"Cybersecurity occupations are poised to take off over the next decade,” he points out.

"Just one job in the sector — information security analyst, which offers a median salary of $102,600 annually — is expected to grow much faster than the average occupation through 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. NMU is committed to continuing to improve and evolve in order to accelerate career opportunities for students and alumni, advance economic prosperity in our region, and positively contribute to homeland security.”

Why is cybersecurity important?

"Cybersecurity awareness and basic proficiency are critical for any business,” Northcross President Bender says. “Technology is part of every industry, and protecting data and systems is a foundational component of any organization’s operations.”

Cybersecurity is more than just technical considerations, he adds. “Cybersecurity spans organizational, administrative and people facets in systems and organizations.  Effective cybersecurity programs and capabilities must span the full range of threat areas, which range from highly technical pieces to manual steps people take on a daily basis.”
Courtesy of Northern Michigan University
Cybersecurity knowledge also needs to be a part of any academic or professional development pursuit, just as skills in things like financial literacy and communications capabilities are needed for success, says Bender. That’s why the company is working with NMU.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is sometimes seen as another potential cybersecurity threat. But the Northcross Group sees it as an opportunity, although one that comes with its own caveats. 

“AI is an incredible opportunity,” Bender says.  “Like any other technology advance, AI needs effective controls to govern what it does and does not do.  But AI will change how people work across industries. The cadence of advancement and where people focus and apply their skills and creativity is going to accelerate. Businesses and individuals need to adapt and target their development for this evolving environment.”

The firm is using AI to accelerate internal capabilities and skill acquisition for people across their career paths, Bender says. NCG is also using its Marquette office as a test bed for its AI-based governance, risk, and compliance platforms. NCG uses AI to help clients build and operate business programs that effectively apply industry standards and requirements tailored to their specific operations, he explains. 

According to the New York Times, President Biden has signed an executive order on AI. It requires companies to share information with the government about systems that might threaten national security, among other things. The executive order is an attempt to harness the technology’s economic potential while minimizing its risks. 

Vice President Kamala Harris supported global standards for AI at a summit in London recently.

In a nutshell, the Northcross Group has come to the U.P. to develop cybersecurity talent and bolster business capabilities in the region and help students and companies learn to manage cybersecurity risks. 

Jennifer Donovan is a reporter with more than 40 years of experience on daily newspapers, magazines and university writing and editing. She is retired as director of news and media relations at Michigan Technological University and lives in Houghton.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.