Emerging as a leader in the field, the university has started to promote its new cybersecurity program, building partnerships with organizations and developing various educational programs.
Cybersecurity deals with everything from protecting sensitive personal information to ensuring the electrical grid and public utilities are secure. While cyber threats are all around us, the University of Delaware Cybersecurity Initiative (UDCSI) is working with institutions in the region to promote education and research.
Dr. Starnes Walker, the founding director of UDCSI, has been at the helm for just over a year and plans to continue expanding the program.
With experience working at the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Energy and Navy, Walker has been responsible for starting and leading major national security programs for the US government.
Having signed bilateral treaties for the United States, Walker is capable of developing international relationships with partners around the globe.
Walker said the initiative is built on the three pillars of educating the future workforce, training the current workforce and research to keep up with technological advances.
While cybersecurity is important to individuals and government agencies, Walker said that the university is uniquely situated to work with corporations that are located within the state. Continued support from the DuPont Company, JP Morgan Chase and Gore illustrate university partnerships with corporate sponsors.
“We are positioning ourselves to be the cyber-hub for corporate America,” Walker said. “Because that’s one thing Delaware is unique in, and it’s recognized by other academic institutions, by the government, and by the customers themselves.”
This year’s commencement speaker is alumnus David G. DeWalt, chairman and CEO of FireEye, a leading cybersecurity company.
Named one of the 25 most influential executives in high technology in 2009, DeWalt has built a career on building technology businesses and is an industry expert in mergers and acquisitions.
DeWalt received his B.S. in computer science, graduating from the university in 1986.
For students interested in the field, the cybersecurity minor has been available since fall of 2014, and a new cybersecurity MS program will be offered this fall. Beginning in January of 2016, students will also have the option to complete the cybersecurity MS degree online.
Professor Kenneth Barner, chair of the electrical engineering department, said students have been receptive to the new minor, with about 90 students taking cybersecurity classes this spring.
According to Barner, the university has established a “leading and somewhat unique focus on our cybersecurity education programs.”
In addition to developing training and education programs, Barner and other faculty involved in the cybersecurity initiative have been able to produce research and attract significant funding.
The university is part of the academic affiliates of a team that won $5 billion awarded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology to develop cybersecurity standards across the United States.
Their partnership with the State of Delaware has also provided the initiative with funding that will be used to help move the initiative to the STAR Campus. The move to the STAR campus would give the program room for education and research, and the technology to maintain its three pillars.
“That would allow us to have classrooms, it will have laboratories,” Walker said of the move. “It will have secure facilities there, so that we can do secure work as well.”
Aiming to become a regional leader in cybersecurity, UDCSI has also developed a strong research partnership with Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and the Delaware Air National Guard. Acting as a link between government and academia has been a major goal of the initiative.
Even more important to faculty is the belief that cybersecurity affects everyone in the country with personal and sensitive information. Barner said the initiative to advance research and standards in cybersecurity will be beneficial not only for corporations and the government, but for ordinary people as well.
Barner said cybersecurity will help protect things like the electric grid, utility systems, water sources and transportation systems.
“Almost everything now, with the internet of things, is increasingly connected to and controlled through the internet,” Barner said. “Protecting all those assets is absolutely critical.”
Walker said that the cyber world has advantages for discovery and invention, but that advances have to happen in a secure manner.
As founding director of UDCSI, Walker plans to continue expanding the university’s reach when it comes to cybersecurity, and improve corporate and government partnerships.
“No matter what career path you take, if you’re going to government or industry or academia, it affects your home,” Walker said.