Securing cyberspace is now considered one of the “grand challenges of engineering”
6.27.2016 / By Adrian D. Parker, Sr.
Every day in the world of computing, thousands of people experience the shock of reaching into their virtual pockets—their personal digital accounts—and coming up empty. From data corruption and manipulation to identity theft, personal information is changed and personal property is stolen at an alarming rate. The threat of critical infrastructure compromise is an even greater danger.
Academic research will play a large role in securing cyber space, an undertaking identified by the National Academy of Engineering as one of the “grand challenges of engineering”. With a new cyber-security research initiative that spans networks, cloud computing, and mobile devices, scientists at Tennessee State University are doing their part to make sure the next big cyberattack never happens.
The cornerstone of the initiative is the CyberViz Research Lab (CRL), founded in 2009 and headed by TSU professor Sachin Shetty. The lab is funded with over $4 million from sources including the National Science Foundation, Department of Homeland Security, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Air Force Research Lab, Boeing, and Amazon.
Although the TSU researchers are taking on a diverse range of problems, including big data analytics for security, mobile security, and cyber physical system security, they’ve made perhaps their biggest inroads in cloud security. TSU’s Cloud Data Center, a sizeable server network within the CRL, has now grown into a venue for analyzing big data even in areas outside cybersecurity. In 2011, the center joined the PlanetLab Consortium, a group of over 500 industry and academic partners that provide a wide-area distributed computing testbed. This testbed allows the design of experiments that resemble real-world scenarios, which in turn gives a platform for the generation and analysis of real-world data.
TSU’s cybersecurity initiative is geared toward not only the development of security products but the training of a competent cybersecurity workforce. As a historically black university, TSU seeks to increase the diversity of that workforce, which a recent study found is only five percent African American.
According to Dr. Shetty, while the research advances are a foundation of the initiative, the real motivation is the people. A significant portion of the CRL’s research is performed by undergraduates, many of whom will go on to who pursue graduate level studies. At CRL, they’re trained not just on technical matters but on protocol. Raytheon’s McKenzie McNeal sees that as an underappreciated element of cybersecurity. Says McNeal, “The most important aspect of cybersecurity is security policy. A large number of attacks are perpetrated from within, not without. Governing people and their access is the first step to proper security.”
Adrian D. Parker, Sr. is a graduate student in Computer and Information Systems Engineering at Tennessee State University and a 2016 HBSciU Fellow. This post was made possible by a grant from the National Association of Science Writers.