With dozens of high-profile cybersecurity breaches top of mind for anyone who shares their information online for business or personal purposes, UNT has strategically pulled together several colleges and departments -- including business, criminal justice, engineering and more -- to focus researchers' attention on network security and human behavior in relation to cybersecurity.
And the National Security Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security took notice. The two federal agencies designated the University of North Texas a National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research, making UNT one of about 60 such research centers in the U.S. And UNT also is one of only a few Texas universities to be named both a Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Research as well as 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," said Ram Dantu, UNT professor of computer science and engineering and director of the UNT Center for Information and Computer Security.
UNT also is the only institution in the U.S. to receive National Science Foundation funding of nearly $1 million for a Scholarship for Service program exclusive to Ph.D. students studying cybersecurity.
Big data and law enforcement
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 cyber-attacks and human errors.
Eric Fritsch, professor of criminal justice, is not only leading innovative research on how law enforcement agencies and officers use and secure big data, but also is an author of the first textbook written on the topic of cybercrime, Digital Crime and Digital Terrorism.
Fritsch's work involves gathering and streamlining data from more than 500 law enforcement agencies into the Law Enforcement Analysis Portal, known as LEAP. Streamlined data means agencies can work together more effectively, he says.
"By creating this system, officers from different cities and agencies are able to find all kinds of data - calls for service, arrest data, traffic citation data, accident data, incident reports -- they wouldn't be able to find otherwise," Fritsch says. "This way, for example, an officer in the Dallas Police Department can easily search through information about a suspect that was gathered by the Garland Police Department."
From a research standpoint, the question Fritsch investigates is what to do with all that data. One option is to analyze the data for patterns of criminal activity.
"Some criminal activity is more regional in nature, human trafficking or drug trafficking for example," he says. "Recently, we were able to match phone records with websites and help police uncover a human trafficking ring that was bringing women and girls from Asia to Dallas. We also were able to tie that data to Western Union data to see the flow of money. This is how we can use data to suppress crime and create effective tools for police."
Researchers in UNT's College of Information take an approach that combines technical and non-technical knowledge of information security. The researchers focus on how organizational practices, such as management guidelines and policies at corporations, affect information security, and develop best practice models that can help organizations deal with security threats and human errors.
"We look at hardware and software as well as human aspects of what makes some organizations more successful than others with regard to information security," said Suliman Hawamdeh, professor and chair of the Department of Library and Information Sciences.
Interest in this field has grown so much that UNT's College of Information created an interdisciplinary information science doctoral program with a concentration in cybersecurity.
"Students in our doctoral program look for ways to minimize human errors and create clear and robust information policies that can benefit organizations," Hawamdeh said.
Kuehne Speakers Series
In 2013, UNT leveraged its scholarly expertise and programmatic excellence in military history, political science, economics, peace policy studies and cybersecurity to launch the UNT Kuehne Speaker Series on National Security. UNT alumnus Ernie W. Kuehne Jr. ('66) pledged $300,000 to establish the series.
Speakers in the series have included Admiral James Stavridis, chairman of the U.S. Naval Institute and first Navy officer to have served as both commander of the U.S. European Command and NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe; Gen. Michael Hayden, retired U.S. Air Force four-star general and former director of the NSA and director of the CIA; and Gen. Keith Alexander, former director of the NSA and USCYBERCOM.
"No other university in this region is prepared to leverage scientists, engineers, philosophers and policy makers from such a wide array of disciplines to advance our understanding of national and economic security," Kuehne says. "I wanted to help UNT play a greater role in those global conversations."
Andrea Tantaros, co-host of "Outnumbered" on Fox News Channel, will speak at the next event, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. May 12 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Dallas. Registration information is available online.