FICS Research Receives Grant to Produce Next Generation of Cybersecurity Experts for US Govt

FICS Research is thrilled to announce that its faculty have been chosen to receive the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) CyberCorps® Scholarship for Service (SFS) grant. Offered by the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management and funded through the National Science Foundation, the grant seeks to address the critical shortage of and national demand for cyber-security professionals employed in the public sector by increasing access to higher education and training, along with facilitating job placement. The grant provides monetary support in the form of scholarships, covering full tuition and providing stipends, to domestic students pursuing doctoral degrees specializing in cyber-security who are interested in working for federal, state or local government agencies and/or organizations after graduation. As the name implies, the program requires that students ‘pay-back’ the scholarship with service, that is a commitment to work for a government agency (such as the FBI, CIA, DOD, state universities or county school systems, etc.) for the same amount of years they accepted the program’s scholarship.Participants will also be provided with direct avenues for internships, pre and post-graduation, as well as job placement upon graduation.

In the winning proposal, which is actually a joint effort between the University of Florida (UF) and Florida International University (FIU), the program was entitled SURPASS: A Unique Scholarship Program in Hardware and Systems Security.  “UF and FIU are uniquely qualified to offer this scholarship program in hardware and systems security (HSS) because of their curricular efforts, strong research programs, faculty strength, as well as unique lab facilities, which will help deliver an exemplary program in the nation.  Both universities serve diverse student populations, have strong internationally-recognized hardware and systems security research programs, and extensive curricular offerings in cyber-security.” (Dr. Bhunia).

The UF team is led by FICS Research’s Education Director, Prof. Swarup Bhunia, and includes fellow FICS Research faculty Diversity Director Prof. Daniela Oliveira,  Co-Director Mark Tehranipoor, and Prof. Kevin Butler. While, the FIU team is led by Prof. Selcuk Uluagac and includes Profs. Kemal Akkaya and Alexander Pons.

Chief among the factors that make the NSF SFS SURPASS program truly unique is that, of the close to seventy other institutions currently participating in this program nationally, UF is the only institution that currently offers a focus on hardware security with a strong emphasis on practical hands-on learning. As per the program’s PI, Prof Swarup Bhunia:  “A well-trained cyber-security workforce is an urgent need for our private and government sectors. Effective cyber-security education for our undergraduate (UG) and graduate (G) students using a well designed curriculum is essential to meet this need. The evolving landscape of computing with the emergence of the Internet-of-Things (IoT) regime, which promises unprecedented scale of devices, all connected to the Internet, makes the demand for cyber-security education stronger than ever. This demand calls for not just an enhanced effort, but also a paradigm shift from the traditional computer and information security education, which typically assumes that the hardware underlying the information systems is secure and trustworthy. With wide array of emerging attacks on hardware at different stages of its life cycle from design to deployment, including hardware Trojan, reverse-engineering, and side-channel attacks, the assumption of “hardware root of-trust” is rapidly becoming invalid. If the hardware is not secure and trust-able, no amount of cyber-security algorithms at higher levels can effectively protect the system. Hence, there is a critical need to rethink our cyber-security education and re-design our curriculum such that our STEM student population, who will use, control and manage our next-generation computing systems, are ready to take on the cyber-security challenges in the IoT regime”.

The program is currently open to both undergraduate and graduate students and its participating faculty are currently actively recruiting candidates. Please visit our official CyberCorps® NSF SFS web page, under the Education tab of our website, for more detailed information, including eligibility criteria and  application instructions.