Mercy College has received a two-year $465,398 grant from the National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (NCAE-C), an arm of the National Security Agency (NSA). The grant will be used by College faculty and staff to design a reliable method of reducing cybersecurity gaps that lead to data breaches and to develop a training course at Mercy College for delivering the technology.
The grant stems from the NCAE-C’s mission to create a collaborative cybersecurity educational program to engage experts in the field in solving the rising problem of data breaches. Mercy College has been tasked with addressing the human component in security breaches, especially those involving individuals, such as hackers or former employees, who break through security systems to access sensitive data.
Usman Rauf, Ph.D., assistant professor of cybersecurity, will serve as principal investigator (PI) on the grant. He will be assisted by co-PI, Zhixiong Chen, Ph.D., director of the Cyber Education Center at Mercy College, which has been designated by the NSA and the Department of Homeland Security as a Center of Academic Excellence on Cybersecurity Defense Education.
According to a recent data report from Verizon, up to two-thirds of breaches are not discovered until a year or more after the incident. “By then the damage is done, well before strategies for detection and deterrence are in place,” said Rauf, whose 2021 paper on the subject was published in the journal Future Generation Computer Systems. “We propose to develop a system of detecting irregular or unexpected behavior that should be flagged as a threat.” Once identified, an automated process will alert the system administrator and other authorities, enabling earlier intervention and minimizing the damage caused by the breach.
In a second phase, the team will design a novel master’s level course, Cyber Threat Analytics, that will offer training in observation, analysis, and application. In the pilot program, Mercy College students will use state-of-the-art techniques and pipelines to learn how to detect and manage insider threats in a variety of scenarios. The team also expects to research and publish papers on multiple aspects of cyber threat analytics. “We are confident that the outcomes of this project will be of great benefit to industry and academia,” Chen said.
“Mercy is proud to have been awarded a grant from the National Security Agency and for the opportunity to contribute to the advancement of the country’s cybersecurity,” said Mercy College President Tim Hall. “Through this grant, Mercy also looks forward to giving students the ability to learn in-demand industry skills that will benefit them upon graduation.”