University achieves 25 years of NSA cybersecurity designation | News | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

The university was designated by the National Security Agency as a National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense extending to the 2028-2029 academic year, marking 25 years with the distinction.

The designation was awarded to the university for its cyber security curriculum. North Texas is one of only four universities in Texas and 30 nationwide to receive a 25-year designation from the NSA.

“What it tells the public, students or the industry is that we are matching the requirements set by the NSA,” said Dr. Ram Dantu, professor of computer science and director of the Center for Information and Cyber Security. “We have to go through a very rigorous process year-by-year. Our syllabi and homework we give, what kind of things we teach, what kind of courses we teach, what kind of projects we do and whether we collaborate with the industry are all required for getting the designation.”

The CAE designation considers the practical skills students learn while studying at the university. For example, these students learn how to secure transactions on the blockchain and how to engage in penetration testing, which helps find flaws and vulnerabilities in a security system. Some of these courses, like blockchain and applications, give students certificates as developers, giving them access to more careers in the field after graduation.

Students at the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science, a residential early college program for high school juniors and seniors, are exposed to the basics of computer science through mathematics and programming, Dantu said.

Huram-Abi Nzia Yotchoum is a TAMS alum and United States Army second lieutenant. Yotchoum is currently pursuing a master’s degree in computational and mathematical science at Stanford and is assigned to the U.S. Army Cyber Corps.

“The summer of my junior year at TAMS, I had the opportunity to do an internship at the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, NY,” Yotchoum said. “I implemented a machine learning model for outlier detection within a system. Learning the fundamentals of mathematics, programming and computer science, which I learned at TAMS, helped me do well at that internship.”

Artificial intelligence has become a tool for professionals in the fields of computer science and cyber security. However, AI also poses a threat to the safety of those same systems.

“AI itself is when we teach machines what to do and if what you are teaching is incorrect, this can cause lots of security concerns,” said Cihan Tunc, assistant professor of computer science and CICS member. “There are things called adversarial attacks where an attacker is basically tricking an AI into believing [an incorrect input is correct]. This is one concern nowadays.”

AI relies on training to recognize data and testing to ensure that it is providing the correct outputs. Dantu said corrupting or tricking this data can corrupt the AI itself and it will produce the wrong results.

“We have a saying: garbage in, garbage out,” Tunc said. “If what you are providing is not completely correct, your training model will not work correctly.”

Dantu said the computer science curriculum at the university teaches students the importance of considering security at every step when creating a program or training an AI.

“Security is not just one course,” Dantu said. “You have to sprinkle it in with every aspect of computers. You have to teach it with the hardware, the applications and the operating system. Even when you are teaching about AI, there has to be security there.”

The CAE designation helps the university become more competitive for research grants, Dantu said. Due to the rigorous process in receiving a designation, many grants are only only offered to schools with a CAE designation. The NSA offers its own grants and other institutions, like the National Science Foundations, have other grants these schools can apply for.

“Because of this designation, we give cyber security certificates to the students who have gone through this curriculum,” Dantu said. “We can use logos saying that they are authorized by the NSA and Homeland Security.”


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