Fueled by escalating concerns with keeping electronic data out of the hands of hackers and computer criminals, the University of Tulsa announced last month the launch of its Institute for Information Security.
The research-focused initiative, called “iSec,” will pool diverse experts from throughout the university, including computer science, electrical engineering and mechanical engineering, said David Greer, an instructor at TU who teaches secure electronic commerce.
“The initiative will work with industry and government agencies alike,” Greer said.
Since the mid-1990s, under the TU Center for Information Security, university faculty and staff have produced professionals in information security, digital forensics, Internet security and telecommunications security.
Over that time TU computer scientists worked with government researchers, but much of their efforts were outside the realm of public knowledge because it involved computer security. There was no opportunity to promote findings, since the projects involved sensitive government information.
“TU has been on the cutting edge of information security for more than a decade,” said Steadman Upham, TU president. “Its lead position in this emerging field is demonstrated in every aspect of the institute, including a nationally recognized cyber security faculty training center and iSec’s partnership with local, state and federal law enforcement through Tulsa Digital Forensics Center.”
“Many faculty traveled around the country, talking about information security — all aspects of digital forensics, data security, SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition),” Greer said. “And in select circles, especially within government, its been known that TU does these things.”
Now, TU will take what has been learned to address the corporate security problems and start publicizing the results, Greer said.
“We have been solicited by a variety of private-sector companies, who would say, ‘Hey, is it possible to work with you guys?’”
Future Is Now
With iSec, TU will explore how to work with companies to write grants and with the federal government to address a diverse set of problems.
Aggressive promotion is the new tone at TU, Greer said.
“We’ve spent years perfecting our techniques and now we are ready to take on the private sector,” he said.
With the creation of iSec, TU will be targeting work in the private sector.
“Researchers will pursue efforts in an array of problems, such as reconstructing traffic accidents through automobile computers and redacting digital information from electronic devices,” Greer said.
The security issues the TU initiative will examine will cover a “whole other side of security people do not think about,” Greer said.
in the Bathroom
“Security is not just at the desktop level,” he said. “It is at the enterprise level and at a critical infrastructure level.”
For example, very large systems like oil and natural gas pipelines, electric co-ops and utilities that manipulate dangerous fluids and gases have to be guarded.
Those large systems, referred to as SCADA systems, are used to perform data collection and control at a supervisory level. Their applications are in industrial processes like manufacturing, production, power generation and refining. Infrastructure processes include water treatment and distribution, wastewater collection and wastewater treatment, oil and gas pipelines, electrical power transmission and large communication systems. Facility processes might include buildings and airports and are used to monitor airflow and energy consumption.
“If their control systems were compromised, a bad guy could mess with a valve and build up pressure in pipes until they explode,” Greer said.
As the institute opens doors to corporate partnerships, students will be able to gain real world experience in the private sector and the opportunity to commercialize their solutions, Greer said.
“iSec will advance the information security field through research discoveries and the development of solutions that address emerging issues within both government and private industry,” he said.
The institute is a key element of the college’s strategic plan and one of TU’s most notable areas of study, said Steve Bellovich, dean of the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences.
“The development of public-private partnerships will be central to iSec’s operations and provide additional opportunities for our students and faculty to engage in leading-edge discoveries. I look forward to further leveraging iSec’s position to a national leader in information security,” he said in a release.
Opening Doors to Grads
TU expects iSec will produce exceptional graduates who will make significant contributions as professionals and leaders in the field, enhancing the state’s economy in the process, Greer said.
“The formation of iSec is a great opportunity for the institute to become a dominant player in the information security field,” said Tom Walker, executive vice president and chief operating officer of i2E, a full-service technology commercialization center. “This type of initiative is critical to the economic development of the high-tech sector in Oklahoma and the region. I think the global impact of iSec could be huge.”
TU already has significant long-term relationships with the National Science Foundation and Department of Defense Cyber Corps programs, a scholarship program that trains students for computer security positions within the U.S. government and military.
An executive director for iSec will be named in coming weeks. ?