$3.5 million NSF grant to fund 24 cybersecurity

BINGHAMTON, NY – A $3.5 million grant will fund new scholarships at Binghamton University, State University of New York over the next five years for two dozen students planning to join the workforce as cybersecurity professionals.

The National Science Foundation’s CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS) program is designed to recruit and train the next generation of information technology experts and security leaders to meet the needs of federal, state, local and tribal. In exchange for their scholarships, recipients agree to work after graduation in government cybersecurity positions for a period equal to the duration of their scholarships.

At Binghamton, the SFS program will be overseen by faculty members from the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Thomas J. Watson College of Engineering and Applied Science. If deemed a success, the NSF may grant additional funding.

There were about 465,000 open cybersecurity positions nationwide in 2021, according to the CyberSeek tech job tracking database. The SFS program seeks to help fill the void, with particular emphasis on attracting people from diverse backgrounds to the profession.

Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger sees the CyberCorps program as one that leverages several of the campus’ core strengths.

“We know there is a huge need in this area for highly qualified experts,” he said. “Binghamton has a long-standing commitment to first-generation students and scholars from underrepresented minorities. We also have a solid set of cybersecurity-related course and scholarship offerings. It’s exciting to know that Binghamton will play a role in diversifying this essential workforce.

Bahgat Sammakia, vice president for research, said Binghamton faculty members understand that research and teaching are mutually reinforcing.

“This dynamic program will provide exceptional professional preparation for our students while advancing Binghamton’s research related to information security,” he said. “I see in my own work how student contributions enable exciting discoveries and how strong mentorship can enable students to succeed in college and beyond.”

In 2020, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security named Binghamton a National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber ​​Research (CAE-R) through 2025. The designation recognizes work at the Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity (CIAC), led by Associate Professor of Computer Science Ping Yang.

“Professor Yang’s vision, leadership and unwavering efforts were instrumental in securing this grant,” said Prof. Weiyi Meng, Head of the Computer Science Department. “This is probably the largest single grant in the department’s history, and will have a significant impact on the department, Watson College and Binghamton University for many years to come.”

Watson College Dean Krishnaswami “Hari” Srihari is proud of the faculty and staff who worked together to secure NSF funding, which is awarded to less than 100 schools nationwide. He knows this will increase the visibility of Binghamton’s cybersecurity efforts in the academic community and the US government.

“Our scholars and students are building the future by tackling our 21st century problems head-on,” Srihari said. “Keeping our data secure is a key part of that future, and we will all benefit from the knowledge shared here at Binghamton and at Watson College.”

The NSF grant co-principal investigators are Professor and Associate Chair Dmitry Ponomarev, Professor Kartik Gopalan and Associate Professor Aravind Prakash from the Department of Computer Science, and Associate Professor Yu Chen from the ECE Department. Senior staff include Distinguished Professor Jessica Fridrich (ECE), Professor Lijun Yin and Associate Professor Guanhua Yan (both CS).

Together, the faculty members cover a wide range of research interests, from architectural support for security and software/systems security to steganography, artificial intelligence (AI)-based security, and mobile security. The approach mirrors what Yang hopes will happen in government, corporate and nonprofit settings, especially as members of underserved communities graduate and join the workforce.

“Building teams of cybersecurity professionals with a variety of skill sets brings different voices and perspectives to the table, which can help improve our defense against a wider range of cyber threats,” Yang said.

The CyberCorps scholarship will initially focus on recruitment for Watson College graduate programs (including the 4+1 five-year accelerated program for a bachelor’s and master’s degree), where a cybersecurity program is already in place. The first students to benefit from the aid could be enrolled in the fall of 2022.

“We’re going to build slowly, starting with maybe two students in the first year and then growing to five or six new students in each of the following years,” Ponomarev said. “We will also integrate this program with other research activities, so that students can participate in current research grants. There will be synergy, especially with two departments working together.

The SFS program’s requirement of government service in exchange for student education funding is a way for the public sector to compete with companies that can often offer higher salaries, especially for entry-level positions.

“This program meets the needs of the government sector,” Gopalan said, “by having motivated students apply, undergo training, get a feel for the environment in which you work for government, and also have the satisfaction of protecting country’s infrastructure.

The CIAC team knows that having skilled cybersecurity professionals in government is no longer optional, not only because of the amount of personal data stored, but also because legislators need to understand and embrace legislation that protects citizens.

“The government cannot fall behind, because the virtual world and the physical world are starting to merge more and more,” Chen said. “Facebook, Apple and Google’s Metaverse are building a new world – what some consider to be ‘version three’ of the Internet. Private tech companies are preparing for this and the government needs to be aware of these innovations .

Prakash agreed. “Government professionals may need to take an adversarial position in some cases, and those battles are difficult if there are no professionals in this field,” he said. “Unlike industry professionals, government professionals owe a fiduciary duty to the people of the United States, not to the shareholders of any particular corporation. Without talented individuals in government, the development and law enforcement related to cybersecurity will suffer greatly.This grant helps to fill this critical need.

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