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Donation to create top-security cyber bunker at DSU

MADISON (AP) — A South Dakota college is set to announce funding to create a basement bunker intended for top-security cyber work.

Dakota State University officials say a major gift to the school would help the university to create what it calls a Secret Compartmentalized Information Facility, or SCIF. It could allow students, faculty and eventually full-time employees to conduct cyber operations for agencies within the U.S. Department of Defense.

That means at least some Dakota State graduates once destined for careers in the Washington, D.C., and Maryland areas might be able to stay closer to home, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported.

"These are our best students," said Josh Pauli, associate professor of cyber operations at Dakota State. "It's a shame that, while some should certainly move to Baltimore and become federal government lifers, others who would like to come back and do that work here can't right now. That's what we're trying to change."

Pauli said the Defense Department has promised to use the facility if it is built.

"Though there are zero dollars attached to that endorsement, what they are telling us is, 'If you commit to and create a SCIF on your campus, as the sponsoring agency, we do have work for you,' " he told the newspaper.

A site for the facility has not been finalized, but Pauli likes the basement of the former Madison Community Hospital that the university is buying for $1.6 million. It's underwhelming and nondescript on the outside. It's also ideal, Pauli said.

"SCIFs are usually in a basement, and there's not a lot of pomp and circumstance to them. They're not designed to draw a lot of attention to them," he said.

Only students, faculty and eventually full-time employees who have gone through high-level security clearance with the Defense Department would gain access to do the top-secret work, Pauli said. While it's difficult to say what defense agencies might use the Madison SCIF for, the university has had relationships with the Space and Naval Warfare Center in Washington, D.C., and with the Defense Cyber Crime Center.

Rebecca Stevens, of Sioux Falls, and Bill Hofer, of Pierre, both 21-year-old juniors at Dakota State majoring in computer and network security, say they like the possibility of practicing their trade in South Dakota.

"Growing up here all my life, I do have some sense of pride in doing something in my home state," Hofer said. "I think it would be nice to put something back into South Dakota."

Said Stevens, "I'm interested in forensics and malware analysis, but I haven't seen anything in South Dakota tied into that at all. I'll probably end up on the East Coast. But my family is pretty much exclusively in the Midwest, so I really would like to stay."

School officials have scheduled a noon news conference Monday to announce the donation.