Grad Students Enlist in War Against Cyber Terrorism

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 @ 04:12 PM gHale

Computer science graduate students will serve on America’s front line of defense in protecting the nation’s information infrastructure from cyber terrorism.

That is because the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $1.85 million grant to Florida State University’s Department of Computer Science to provide funding for scholarships for 15 students each year for the next four years in exchange for paid employment at a federal agency following graduation. Offered by the NSF and co-sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, the Scholarship for Service program requires students to work for the government for a period equivalent to the length of their scholarship, typically two years.

“There is a critical national shortage of employees who are adequately educated and trained in the cyber security area,” said Harris Professor Mike Burmester, the lead researcher on the grant. “The growth of the Internet and its infusion into nearly every aspect of our lives presents a target opportunity for adversaries. It is essential to develop new operational doctrines, cyber warfare capabilities and trained professionals to maintain our national infrastructure including our banking system, stock exchange, power grid and military operations.”

Burmester, who also serves as director of the department’s Center for Security and Assurance in IT (C-SAIT), said the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) designated Florida State as a Center of Excellence in Information Assurance Education in 2001 and an Information Assurance Center of Academic Excellence in Research in 2009.

There are only 38 U.S. institutions with both designations, and FSU is the only one in Florida.

For students, membership in the Cyber Corps — that’s the name given to those serving in the Scholarship for Service program as well as a similar program offered by the Department of Defense — has its privileges. The scholarship provides a stipend and an allowance for room, board and books that totals nearly $20,200 per year in addition to covering the cost of tuition, not to mention a paid summer internship at a government agency.

Shay Ellison first became interested in a career in information security when someone stole his credit card information from a company’s database. Now, he’s earning a master’s degree in computer science at Florida State as a Scholarship for Service recipient.

“I’m excited about working on some of the most groundbreaking and relevant security work in the country,” he said. “I hope to one day do computer security consulting on my own or with a team specializing in this. Working with strong government programs in security will help me build the skills I need for this work as well as make many connections in and out of the government workplace.”

Through a formal relationship with Florida A&M University, Burmester said the computer science department is making a focused effort to recruit students from underrepresented groups into the Scholarship for Service program. Click here for more information about the program.

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