Government and industry leaders are searching for better ways to secure industry, individuals — and our world.
BY: TANYA O’NEIL and COURTNEY TAYLOR
Identity theft that wipes out accounts. A system disruption that shuts down water systems or power plants. A terrorist attack on our city, state or nation. These are some of the more obvious security risks.
No one is immune. And no longer is it a matter of if. It is a matter of when. With a constantly growing number of high-profile cybersecurity data breaches, it is no wonder more and more individuals have grown wary. At last count, 91 percent of American adults say that consumers have lost control over how personal information is collected and used by companies, according to the Pew Research Center. And 76 percent of chief information security officers say attacks on infrastructure are growing more sophisticated, according to the 2015 Report on Cybersecurity and Critical Infrastructure in the Americas.
These security issues are not just an IT problem. The impact can range from the security of water supplies and power plants to an individual’s personal information to data related to our national security — and everything in between.
“Our computing systems cannot just be secure — they should be unfailingly trustworthy,” Microsoft founder Bill Gates told the World Economic Forum. “We should be able to rely on them as we in the developed world rely on electricity or a telephone service today.”
Significant work is being done across local, state and national government agencies, industry and universities to fast track security solutions that will help prevent attacks and, more importantly, develop solutions and strategies to employ when an attack occurs so that mission critical operations are not compromised National Science Foundation Director France A. Córdova recently noted in a speech at the Texas Research Summit that research by Ram Dantu, professor of computer science and engineering at the University of North Texas, in Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) security is an example of how cybersecurity research has led to products, services, startups and innovative solutions in the marketplace.
Dantu’s work through the center also was instrumental in the National Security Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security designating UNT as a National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research in 2015.
“This research also has led to a number of new companies: VoIPshield Systems, Sipera Systems, Kagoor Networks (which was acquired by Juniper Networks, a leading networking company with 2014 revenues nearly $5 billion) and Kayote Networks,” Córdova says.
UNT’s Center for Information and Computer Security is a hub for interdisciplinary programs and research that focuses on network security and human behavior in relation to cybersecurity.
“Cybersecurity research at UNT spans several colleges and departments, including business, criminal justice and engineering. UNT researchers focus strongly on network security and human behavior in relation to cybersecurity. UNT also is the only institution in the U.S. to receive National Science Foundation funding for a Scholarship for Service program exclusive to doctoral students studying cybersecurity,” says Dantu, director of the center and recent recipient of the Outstanding Advocate award from D CEO magazine and the Information Systems Security Association.
He emerged a leader for innovative research using smartphone technology, VoIP security and cybersecurity to help people and organizations safely store information.
Collaborating is key
Smartphone adoption — and an overall reliance on hand-held devices — has grown exponentially in the U.S. Today, for example, 68 percent of adults own smartphones, up from only 35 percent in 2011, according to the Pew Research Center. Smartphones and other hand-held devices are among the largest growing security risks going forward.
Not everyone who has a cellphone or other mobile device is on the up and up.
That’s why UNT’s Department of Criminal Justice is opening a digital forensics lab at the UNT New College at Frisco. The off-site instructional facility will house the area’s only cyber laboratory solely dedicated to analyzing data from devices used in criminal activities.
“What we’ve found is that cellphone analysis is a major need for the North Texas region’s law enforcement,” says Scott Belshaw, associate professor of criminal justice at UNT and cyber lab director. “There’s such a massive backlog. Think about crimes involving cellphones — law enforcement needs the information in them, and they need it fast. Our goal is to connect with as many police departments and federal agencies as possible to accelerate investigation processes.”
As technology has advanced over the past few decades, the amount of sensitive data from governments, businesses and individuals stored in digital systems and online has skyrocketed. UNT faculty lead innovative research into how organizations can effectively and safely store information, and develop policies to help avoid mishaps from cyberattacks and human errors.
Construction of the cyber lab was made possible by UNT alumnus Steven Holmes, who donated $350,000 for its creation. He says he wanted to fund the project because it will impact all of the North Texas region and facilitate an investigational need to help solve crimes.
“What they are trying to do is link up as many police departments and federal agencies as possible,” Holmes says. “This is an important issue that people don’t give enough attention to.”
Belshaw hopes to have the cyber lab up and running this year and is excited to teach UNT criminal justice students skills that will help them have a competitive edge in the workforce.
“Cyber investigation is where everything is,” Belshaw says. “It’s where students are going to get jobs. We want to make sure when they get out, they’re trained to do it.
“Cyber investigation is where everything is. It’s where students are going to get jobs. We want to make sure when they get out, they’re trained to do it.”
— Scott Belshaw
Director of UNT’s Cyber Lab