Vanderbilt Engineering to join new national cyber-security initiative

Terrorist attacks in cyberspace have been the subjects of science fiction and spy novels and movies, but engineering researchers at Vanderbilt will help make sure that reality never catches up with fiction.

The Vanderbilt School of Engineering is joining the University of Memphis Center for Information Assurance and Sparta, Inc. of Huntsville, Ala., to create a cyber-security training program to prepare information system professionals and law enforcement officers to identify, prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from cyber attacks at the federal, state, and local level.

The University of Memphis is the lead institution in the program, to be funded by a $4 million grant over three years from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under the Competitive Training Grant Program (CTGP).

The U.S. government has instituted a strong information assurance program to protect against attacks on the nation’s computing infrastructure and provides funding for training initiatives that further DHS’s mission to prepare the nation to prevent or deal with incidents of cyber terrorism. “The program, Adaptive Cyber-Security Training (ACT) Online, will train information assurance personnel to identify potential sources of threats, to institute the most effective deterrents and to respond and recover to attack” said Dr. Dipankar Dasgupta, University of Memphis professor of computer science and principal investigator of the program.

Dasgupta and his partners in the new national training program intend to plug those cyber-security gaps using a multi-track, multi-level training program that will arm information system professionals with the understanding and tools they need to beef up their computer security systems

“Our program will present multiple levels of training on information assurance to identify the threat, to find measures that can prevent attacks, and to address new challenges,” Dasgupta said.

Eligible professionals will be able to log on to an online program that first assesses their level of expertise and then delivers course material appropriate to their needs. The courseware will be interactive and designed according to state-of-the-art learning science, enabling learners to understand and retain information quickly and thoroughly and to build skills efficiently. The cyber-security courseware will also be designed so that it can be updated as new threats and solutions emerge.

Advanced training will blend online- and classroom-based learning at sites throughout the nation during the three-year period covered by the grant.

The University of Memphis is designated by DHS and the National Security Agency (NSA) as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education for the academic years of 2006-2009. The University will leverage content developed in its mature IA courses to develop the new training program.

Vanderbilt School of Engineering will work with the U of M to develop the online courseware, using advanced learning technologies pioneered at Vanderbilt. Senior Research Scientist Larry Howard from the Vanderbilt Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS) and Assistant Professor Ken Pence, Engineering Management, will co-direct the online, interactive aspects of the project. A vital aspect of this work involves incorporating adaptive features into the online system that will identify coursework for each user by iteratively profiling current knowledge and skills.

The online courses will be hosted on servers provided by Sparta, which will manage day-to-day technical operations.

The program is expected to train approximately 6,000 professionals throughout the U.S. during its three-year existence.


Ken Pence Institute for Software Integrated Systems