PhD Program Tackles Cyber Security

Friday, August 19, 2011 @ 04:08 PM gHale

Computer viruses, botnets, Trojans, malware, worms, and cyber attacks are among the online evil and crime that can defy any fiction writer’s imagination.

The traditional mindset just won’t work in battling the terror. That is where the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) doctoral students come in as they will soon get their chance to tackle the beast through a multi-disciplinary academic attack.

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“Malware and cyber-attack losses are estimated to run into at least the billions of dollars a year,” Sloan said. “Simultaneously, we face increasing loss of control over our personal information which can be stolen by cyber-attacks or made public through social media.”

UIC is receiving $3.2 million from the National Science Foundation over the next five years to form IGERT – an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program. This is where doctoral students in a variety of fields will tackle electronic security and privacy matters from business, engineering, legal and social science perspectives.

“Technological expertise is a necessity to fight these threats, but technological solutions divorced from human, social, economic and legal considerations all too often fail,” said Robert Sloan, professor and head of computer science and a principal investigator of the IGERT grant.

Lead principal investigator (PI) Venkat Venkatakrishnan, associate professor of computer science, has been a pioneering researcher of online security and privacy issues since his own days as a doctoral student. Venkatakrishnan headed up efforts to secure the IGERT grant with the aid of more than a dozen researchers at UIC and other universities.

Sloan, along with Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Richard Warner, has successfully taught courses on privacy and security to a mix of computer science and law students. It convinced him of the benefits to multidisciplinary instruction.

Other co-PIs on the grant include Ranganathan Chandrasekaran, associate professor of information and decision sciences, who will focus on the economics of information security and risk analysis. Steven Jones, professor of communication, will focus on user attitudes toward security and privacy technologies. Annette Valenta, professor of biomedical and health information sciences, will focus on healthcare electronic security and privacy – a major concern as health records increasingly become digitalized.

Between 25 and 30 doctoral students will receive $30,000 annual stipends plus tuition for two years. The first students are likely to start the program in the fall, 2012 semester. Student eligibility requirements include U.S. citizenship or a Green Card.

While IGERT participants will earn their Ph.D.s from various academic departments, Sloan said each will take a required set of five multidisciplinary courses. Each student will write a dissertation on a topic related to electronic security and privacy.

“We anticipate creating a new concentration in electronic security and privacy, so a student will graduate with a Ph.D. in, for example, communications, electrical and computer engineering or computer science with a concentration in electronic security and privacy,” he said.

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