Sherman receives 5.4m in funding for cybersecurity research and scholarships

July 26th, 2018

UMBC receives $5.4m in funding for new cybersecurity projects

NSF and NSA Fund Three Cybersecurity Projects by Prof. Alan Sherman 

Professor Alan Sherman and colleagues were recently awarded more than $5.4 million dollars in three new grants to support cybersecurity research and education at UMBC, including two from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and one from the National Security Agency (NSA).  Dr. Sherman leads UMBC’s Center for Information Security and Assurance which was responsible for UMBC’s designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity Research and Education.

This summer, NSF funded Sherman’s second CyberCorps Scholarship for Service (SFS) grant (Richard Forno, CoPI) that will fund 34 cybersecurity scholars over five years and support research at UMBC and in the Cyber Defense Lab (CDL). The $5 million award supports scholarships for BS, MS, MPS, and PhD students to study cybersecurity through UMBC degree programs in computer science, computer engineering, cyber, or information systems. SFS scholars receive tuition, books, health benefits, professional expenses, and an annual stipend ($22,500 for undergraduates, $34,000 for graduate students). In return, each scholar must engage in a summer internship and work for government (federal, state, local, or tribal) for one year for each year of support. The program is highly competitive and many of the graduates now work for the NSA.

A novel aspect of UMBC’s SFS program is that it builds connections with two nearby community colleges—Montgomery College (MC) and Prince Georges Community College (PGCC). Each year, one student from each of these schools is selected for a scholarship. Upon graduation from community college, the student transfers to UMBC to complete their four-year degree. In doing so, UMBC taps into a significant pool of talent and increases the number of cybersecurity professionals who will enter government service. Each January, all SFS scholars from UMBC, MC, and PGCC engage in a one-week research study. Working collaboratively, they analyze a targeted aspect of the security of the UMBC computer system. The students enjoy the hands-on experience while helping to improve UMBC’s computer security. Students interested in applying for an SFS scholarship should consult the CISA SFS page and contact Professor Sherman. The next application deadline is November 15.

With $310,000 of support from NSF, Sherman and his CoPIs, Drs. Dhananjay Phatak and Linda Oliva, are developing educational Cybersecurity Assessment Tools (CATS) to measure student understanding of cybersecurity concepts. In particular, they are developing and validating two concept inventories: one for any first course in cybersecurity, and one for college graduates beginning a career in cybersecurity. These inventories will provide science-based criteria by which different approaches to cybersecurity education can be assessed (e.g., competition, gaming, hands-on exercises, and traditional classroom). This project is collaborative with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

With $97,000 of support from NSA, Sherman is developing a virtual Protocol Analysis Lab that uses state-of-the-art tools to analyze cryptographic protocols for structural weaknesses. Protocols are the structured communications that take place when computers interact with each other, as for example happens when a browser visits a web page. Experience has shown that protocols are so complicated to analyze that there is tremendous value in studying them using formal methods. Sherman and his graduate students are making it easier to use existing tools including CPSA, Maude NPA, and Tamerin, applying them to analyze particular protocols, and developing associated educational materials.