Collaborative UB cybersecurity program awarded $3.4 million NSF grant

By Peter Murphy

Release Date: August 7, 2023

Shambhu Upadhyaya.

Shambhu Upadhyaya

Lawrence Sanders.

Lawrence Sanders

“Our goal is to continue developing students with the skills and technical expertise to combat bad actors seeking access to sensitive information. ”
Lawrence Sanders, professor of management science and systems
University at Buffalo School of Management

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The increased prevalence of artificial intelligence, information authenticity, blockchain and other technologies in daily life illustrates the significant need for cybersecurity skills and professionals.

The University at Buffalo received a $3.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service (SFS), a program aimed at training the next generation of cybersecurity experts.

“Cybersecurity is the need of the hour,” says Shambhu Upadhyaya, principal investigator on the grant, professor in UB’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and strategic lead in cybersecurity research and education in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “We are trying to make an impact at UB by engaging in outreach activities in addition to doing research.”

The grant will provide funding for UB’s Center of Excellence in Information Systems Assurance Research and Education (CEISARE) – a designated National Center of Excellence in cybersecurity education and cybersecurity research – to graduate 24 cybersecurity specialists over the next five years.

For the first time since receiving the CyberCorps SFS grant in 2008, CEISARE will include students enrolled in technical and managerial disciplines in undergraduate programs, in addition to those enrolled in master’s degree and doctoral programs. According to Upadhyaya, the plan is to train eight undergraduate and 16 graduate students, but this may change depending on availability, eligibility and need.

The program is led by a core group of four faculty members from as many academic disciplines, including engineering, management, mathematics and law. While the program’s investigators will engage all faculty members in relevant disciplines, each member of the core group has their own role, says Lawrence Sanders, co-principal investigator on the project and professor of management science and systems in the UB School of Management.

“The current SFS program will recruit two undergrads and four grads each year for the next four years. The School of Management typically receives two or three of these awards per year,” Sanders says. “We work very closely with professor Upadhyaya to recruit students for the scholarship. We also have regular meetings with all of the students and assist in mentoring students during their tenure in the SFS program.”

CEISARE has received over $10 million to run the CyberCorps program since 2008. The program also helped UB faculty members launch an MS in Engineering Science with a focus on cybersecurity, and a cybersecurity minor for undergraduates. The program has graduated over 45 scholars who work for the FBI, CiA, Department of Homeland Security, National Security Agency, Federal Trade Commission, Office of the Inspector General and several other agencies.

“Cybersecurity is critical to our nation’s economic and national security. Through this program, NSF has helped more than 4,500 students get the degrees they need to be part of the cybersecurity workforce and helped them give back through public service,” says NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “With this announcement, NSF reaffirms its commitment to invest in institutions that have demonstrated exceptional success and innovative advancements to their existing projects with the aim of fostering a robust workforce and growing interest in cybersecurity careers.”

Since 2015, CEISARE has extended outreach to middle and high school students, bringing over 300 children to UB to learn about the fundamentals of cybersecurity. Expanded outreach is key to the program, says Upadhyaya.

“We aim to expand our current cybersecurity program to the undergraduate level through a minor in cybersecurity and encourage those students to pursue cybersecurity for their career and to become an SFS scholar,” Upadhyaya says. “We are now proposing to develop a broad-based cybersecurity program by considering the current challenges of ransomware, blockchain applications and information authenticity.”

The program has changed with each round of funding, and this is due, in part, to the nature of cybersecurity itself. New threats and technologies are emerging regularly, and students who complete UB’s CyberCorps SFS program can address these and future challenges, according to Sanders.

“The cybersecurity environment is constantly changing. Losses from insider attacks, criminal activity and nation-states can be significant and have increased substantially in the past several years,” Sanders says. “The effects can be devastating and lead to collateral damage involving customer losses, lawsuits and severely damaged reputations. Our goal is to continue developing students with the skills and technical expertise to combat bad actors seeking access to sensitive information.”

According to researchers, one major goal of the program is to develop a cybersecurity workforce in federal, state and local government agencies, but students will work with local industries while enrolled in the program. SFS scholars will address the cybersecurity needs of banks, health care facilities and consulting companies to prepare them for cybersecurity work with government agencies.

Upadhyaya has several years of research experience in the areas of cybersecurity. This program provides another element beyond typical cybersecurity research.

“My ongoing research with NSF addresses fundamental aspects of cybersecurity, whereas the goal of this project is to offer a blend of education, research, experiential learning and professional development, all under one umbrella,” Upadhyaya says. “I have been doing research in broad areas such as intrusion detection, authentication, ransomware mitigation, etc. We plan to develop projects in these areas and new areas such as trustworthy AI, information authenticity and blockchain.”

Sanders says one of the biggest strengths of the CyberCorps program is that students have access to a wide array of resources thanks to the partnership between the School of Management and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“Our collaboration gives students a distinct advantage in cybersecurity by providing access to the exceptional teaching and research initiatives in both schools,” says Sanders. “We’ve also recently hired a number of new faculty members who have bolstered our already strong foundation in this area.”

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