Computer Science Earns National Designation for Cyber Defense Research

Recognition from National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security

Recent attacks stealing credit card, personnel and medical records have pushed concerns of cyber security and cyber defense to front page news worldwide.

In recognition of the depth and maturity of its established research program in cyber defense, the University of Houston received the designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research. The designation, currently held by only 61 U.S. universities, is presented by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to promote research and prepare a growing number of security professionals to meet the need of reducing vulnerabilities in the nation’s networks.

Validation of Work

“This designation is a real validation of the work in this field that many faculty members in our department are doing,” said Stephen Huang, professor of computer science and lead on the application for the research designation. “It is awarded to universities conducting security research and producing Ph.D.s in cyber defense.”

The Center of Academic Excellence designation runs through 2020. Huang says that several federal funding opportunities require the designation as a condition for funding.

To receive the designation, the Department of Computer Science underwent a review of its Ph.D. curriculum and the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded. The review also covered the publications and grant awards of the department’s faculty working in cyber security.

The NSA/DHS certification recognizes the university’s “significant contributions in meeting the national demand for cyber defense research, developing a growing number of professionals with cyber defense research expertise, and ultimately contributing to the protection of the national information infrastructure.”

Current Cyber Defense Research

Huang says important areas of cyber defense research include protecting the privacy and integrity of data and the detection and prevention of attacks.

“There are two kinds of attacks, people coming in and stealing data, such as credit card information and employee data, and attacks such as denial of service that can breach and shut down online shopping sites or 911 emergency services systems,” Huang said.

The Department of Computer Science faculty members cover many areas of cyber defense research including data security, denial of service attacks, security issues on smartphones, intrusion detection, authorship authentication, prevention of phishing attacks, and protocol verification.

Scholarships for Training Students in Cyber Security

In late 2014, the department received a $1.5 million CyberCorps grant from the National Science Foundation to prepare students for careers in cyber security. The grant, “Scholarships for Service: Increasing Talented Trusted Computing Professionals,” is designed to provide full-time graduate students with the training necessary to protect and defend the nation’s security infrastructure.

Upon graduation, the scholarship recipients will be required to work in a federal, local, state or tribal government agency. “Our program will provide government agencies with well-qualified students in this field,” said Rakesh Verma, professor of computer science and principal investigator on the grant. Computer science faculty members, Huang, Weidong Larry Shi, and Ernst Leiss, are co-principal investigators.

Kathy Major, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics