TU earns NSA designation as center of excellence to train ‘cyber warriors’ - Engineering & Natural Sciences

TU earns NSA designation as center of excellence to train ‘cyber warriors’

The National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command have designated The University of Tulsa as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations.

This NSA program is designed to yield a larger pool of professionals with expertise in this area. An outgrowth of President Obama’s National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education, the program also supports the government’s work to better protect cyberspace.

“The nation increasingly needs professionals with highly technical cyber skills to help keep America safe today and to help the country meet future challenges and adapt with greater agility,” said Steven LaFountain, an NSA technical leader involved with the program.

Institutions identified as national centers of academic excellence offer a deeply technical, interdisciplinary curriculum centered on fields such as computer science, computer engineering and electrical engineering. In addition, the designation will allow some participants to apply their learning or enhance their teaching in cutting-edge summer seminars at NSA. The agency has long worked with schools at all levels to improve education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

After a rigorous screening process, to which 20 universities applied, the NSA selected TU and three other schools to receive the CAE-Cyber Operations designation for the 2012-13 academic year. The other institutions are Dakota State University, South Dakota; the Naval Postgraduate School, California; and Northeastern University, Massachusetts.

“The University of Tulsa has spent years distinguishing itself as a leader in educating and training cyber security experts. We attract world-class faculty and produce some of the most sought-after graduates in the information assurance and digital forensics fields,” said TU President Steadman Upham.

Out of 10 requirements to gain the CAE-Cyber Ops designation, the two most lacking at many schools were courses on reverse engineering, or how to gain knowledge of a technology or product to reproduce it, and cellular communications and mobile technologies, NSA officials said. TU is able to offer three unique courses – Hardware Reverse Engineering, Software Reverse Engineering and Embedded Devices Reverse Engineering – thanks in part to generous gifts from donors such as John and Sarah Graves.

TU’s information security programs have previously received similar nods of approval from the NSA, National Science Foundation, Department of Defense and U.S. Secret Service. “TU is proud to accept this new designation. We will redouble our efforts to remain a standard-bearer for academic excellence in this crucial area,” Upham said.

“This is an incredible honor. The University of Tulsa is creating ‘cyber ninjas’ who will help secure our critical infrastructure from global adversaries,” said TU Cyber Corps Director Sujeet Shenoi, chemical engineering professor and F.P. Walter Professor of Computer Science. “Our program is looking for the best and brightest students to serve our country. In return, we promise to give them the most incredible research and academic opportunities, because we want them to make a difference.”

TU’s Cyber Corps currently has 60 students enrolled in the program from a variety of backgrounds including computer science, mathematics, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, law and business. The Cyber Corps Program is housed in TU’s A.R. and Marylouise Tandy School of Computer Science.

Many of the nation’s colleges and universities offer courses or promote projects in cyber security. However, NSA’s new program differs in that it integrates the relevant academic disciplines, with a focus on technology and the techniques associated with specialized cyber operations – collection, exploitation and response, for example.

Each new center is also required to include an academic unit about the legal and ethical issues in this area. “We still found a lot of schools are still a little reluctant on how they characterize what they are teaching,” LaFountain said.

Participating students and faculty members will not engage in actual U.S. government intelligence activities. Rather, the primary goal is to expose students to the scientific and intellectual foundation of cyber operations, giving them a glimpse of how such knowledge could be applied in innovative cyber careers with the government.

“When it comes to national security, there is no substitute for a dedicated, immensely talented workforce,” LaFountain said. “This effort will sow even more seeds.”

Strengthening partnerships with academia is another key goal. Designations are for five years, and schools across the country can compete each year to join the effort. The centers will be evaluated annually.

To learn more about TU’s Cyber Corps Program, please visit www.utulsa.edu/cybercorps.

Mona Chamberlin