UT Dallas Cybersecurity program earns $3.9 million award

October 01, 2014

A cybersecurity scholarship program in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Sciencehas received an award of more than $3.9 million from the National Science Foundation.

The CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service program at UT Dallas can provide up to $46,000 per academic year to qualified undergraduate and graduate students pursuing computer science degrees related to cybersecurity.

The program's goal is to fulfill the U.S. government's needs for employees trained in cybersecurity, said Dr. Kamil Sarac, associate professor of computer science who is principal investigator and director of the UT Dallas' Scholarship for Service program, which started in 2010.

"The government is a prime target for most international crimes, and currently there are not enough graduates being produced to fill the need," Sarac said. "Our students and graduates are among the most proficient in the field. We are grateful to our program directors at the National Science Foundation for the past and future support of Scholarship for Service, and our new award means that we can now expand the public service component of the program."

The award includes a salary for the students, and can help cover tuition, books, health insurance, professional development and travel. In exchange for their scholarships, students are expected to serve within the federal government for a period equivalent to the length of their scholarship.

Fourteen students have graduated through the program, with eight more being supported from the 2010 award. The new award is expected to support nearly 30 students.

Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, lead co-principal investigator of the award and executive director of the Cyber Security Research and Education Institute (CSI), said the program complements University research efforts.

"We are very pleased that Dr. Sarac is spearheading this critical component of the Cyber Security Research and Education Institute," said Thuraisingham, Louis Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Professor and a professor of computer science. "We believe that a strong education program in cybersecurity is vital to our research program."

Sarac credits several components of UT Dallas cybersecurity education for obtaining the additional grant -- the caliber of the cybersecurity team, the institutional support from the University and the pool of talented computer science students.

UT Dallas cybersecurity education involves educators from throughout the University organized in the Cyber Security Research and Education Institute. Over the past decade, several new faculty members who teach courses and conduct research in all aspects of cybersecurity have been added.

"We have built a very strong cybersecurity team under the leadership of Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham," said Sarac, CSI director of education. "I am not sure that such a rich set of faculty in this field exists at many other schools."

The Department of Computer Science has provided support for the Computer Security Group (CSG), a registered student group that organizes extracurricular cybersecurity education activities.

"There is a perception that cybersecurity is a very difficult area to go into," Sarac said. "Our CSG club activities are helping us break this perception and motivate and encourage students to seriously consider this challenging, yet fulfilling domain."

Extracurricular activities also serve the dual purpose of providing additional support for students already in the program.

"Due to the nature of the field, you cannot teach every tool or every hands-on skill in class, so students need extracurricular and club activities to provide those opportunities," Sarac said.

Thuraisingham noted that students in the program mainly come from the Jonsson School, but that the next step is to expand the cybersecurity education program to include an interdisciplinary component with the Naveen Jindal School of Management, theSchool of Economics, Political and Policy Sciences, the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and the School of Arts and Humanities.

"We have already established a very strong interdisciplinary research program on topics such as risk, economics, games and behavioral aspects of cybersecurity with substantial funding from several federal agencies," she said. "We are now ready to build an interdisciplinary education program that will utilize the outstanding research that our faculty is carrying out."

Scholarship for Service students can come from anywhere in the country. Annual outreach activities, such as the Texas Security Awareness Week (TexSAW) Student Workshop & Competition, have helped recruit students from outside UT Dallas.

Sarac said the program will do more public outreach, such as mentoring and teaching basic cybersecurity defense skills to high school students, and conducting cybersecurity workshops at retirement communities.

"Our program has been successful in equipping our students and providing graduates ready to take their places in the front line of cybersecurity defense in organizations such as the National Security Agency, CIA and Federal Reserve Banks; federally funded research and development centers such as MITRE and MIT Lincoln Laboratory; and federal research labs such as Sandia," Sarac said. "We believe that arming the general public with cybersecurity skills also aligns with the SFS goal of contributing to society.

"Our students are fortunate to be at an institution that supports such activities."

University of Texas at Dallas

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