UNT doctoral students tackle the newest threats in cybersecurity

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - 16:30
UNT cybersecurity students and professors (from left) Dr. Suliman Hawamdeh, Quentin Mayo, Yassir Hashem, Logan Widick, Obi Ogbanufe, Josh Talkington, Dr. Ram Dantu and Michael Jaynes. Not shown: Dr. Dan Kim and Dr. Victor R. Prybutok.
Photo credit: Michael Clements
UNT cybersecurity students and professors (from left) Dr. Suliman Hawamdeh, Quentin Mayo, Yassir Hashem, Logan Widick, Obi Ogbanufe, Josh Talkington, Dr. Ram Dantu and Michael Jaynes. Not shown: Dr. Dan Kim and Dr. Victor R. Prybutok. Photo credit: Michael Clements

The University of North Texas is the only university in the country to receive National Science Foundation funding of more than $1 million for a Scholarship for Service program exclusive to Ph.D. students studying cybersecurity.

UNT's team of six Scholarship for Service students research topics including cyber physical security, insider threats, intrusion detection, data breaches, health information technology, big data security analysis and more. Those involved are Dr. Suliman Hawamdeh, Dr. Ram Dantu, Dr. Dan Kim, Dr. Victor R. Prybutok, Quentin Mayo, Yassir Hashem, Logan Widick, Obi Ogbanufe, Josh Talkington and Michael Jaynes.

The program provides funding for students to complete their doctoral degrees in exchange for an agreement to work for a federal organization where their cybersecurity expertise can benefit the U.S., such as the CIA, FBI or Department of Homeland Security.

The program, led by UNT Professor of Computer Science and Engineering Ram Dantu, is building UNT's reputation as a leader in cybersecurity research. Dantu also serves as director of UNT's Center for Information and Computer Security, a hub for interdisciplinary programs and research from business, criminal justice and engineering that focuses on network security and human behavior in relation to cybersecurity.

Cybercrime and threats

Obi Ogbanufe is a student in the Information Technology and Decision Sciences department in UNT's College of Business with a concentration on information assurance. Her background is in computer science and systems engineering. Cybersecurity research piqued her interest because it is an ever changing challenge.

"Computer science, information technology, these fields keep changing," she said. "We need security in everything we do or have: our jobs, our homes, our cars. Everything is connected in one way or another, mostly through the internet, and with that comes questions about privacy. How are we protecting ourselves?"

Ogbanufe's research focuses on cybersecurity risk management and traceability of cybercrimes. On the risk management side, she is looking into what options are available for organizations and individuals to manage risks that come from being a casual internet user or an attack. On the cybercrime side, she is building frameworks to better understand how organizations can trace information and be better prepared.

Ogbanufe recently wrapped up an internship with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where she got hands-on experience research and handling issues surrounding health care information technology and security.

How secure are your devices?

Quentin Mayo also likes a challenge. His research is focused on computer network security, or how to monitor and prevent attacks on computer networks, and content aware security, building an understanding of how apps use data, such as location, time and identity information, and deciding whether or not that data usage is a threat.

"I want to understand how we can better protect people," he says. "If you are using features on a device, such as a smart phone, how secure are you?"

Mayo and a team of other graduate and Ph.D. students from around the country tackled these topics during an internship at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne's Coordinated Science Laboratory this summer.

Leading Cybersecurity Research

In 2015 UNT was named a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research by the National Security Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. UNT is one of about 60 such centers in the U.S. and also is one of only a few Texas universities to be named both a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research and a Center for Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education.

"This type of recognition is very advantageous for UNT researchers, who now will have an extra edge when applying for research funding," Dantu said.

Dantu also is a leader for innovative research using smartphone technology, Voice over Internet Protocol security and cybersecurity to help people and organizations effectively and safely store information. National Science Foundation Director France A. Córdova recently noted in a speech at the Texas Research Summit that Dantu's research in VoIP security is an example of how cybersecurity research like his has led to products, services, startups and innovative solutions in the marketplace.