Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) was recently designated as a Center of Excellence in Cybersecurity Research in a program jointly managed by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
The news comes as American companies and organizations are increasingly under cyberattack from various countries, groups, and individuals. In an effort to address those issues, WPI is interested in designing secure systems that rely on engineering practices, analyses, mindsets, and design processes.
The designation means that WPI's research in cybersecurity has been certified by those organizations as having a certain degree of depth and impact in terms of research papers, grants, and faculty participation in various committees.
"We're very pleased to receive this certification from the NSA and Department of Homeland Security," said Kathi Fisler, associate professor of computer science and director of WPI's Cybersecurity Program. "The designation shows that wide-ranging, quality work in security is taking place at WPI and that we're a university that is helping to address national needs in cybersecurity."
Fisler noted that NSA and Homeland Security offer three possible designations for academic institutions: research, education, and cyber-operations. WPI’s new research designation makes it easier to apply for certain federal grant programs focused on cybersecurity, such as NSF’s Scholarships for Service that use the certification as a means for determining program depth.
"Much of the research at WPI is about understanding reliable techniques to create secure systems," said Fisler. "Universities also have many other ways to have impact on groups and agencies, such as sponsoring seminars and events that get people talking to each other. With the breadth of our program and large set of faculty, WPI is in a prime position to host some thought-provoking and informative events. It's education in a broader context, fueled by our research."
WPI's center is unique as the faculty members in the Cybersecurity Program study security from a wide range of perspectives, with professors working in hardware, embedded systems, wireless protocols, secure system architectures, software systems, and end-user security. "This positions WPI to take a much broader research look than groups that concentrate in just one level, such as network security," said Fisler.
Karen Oates, dean of arts & sciences at WPI, was pleased with the recent designation. "Cybersecurity is one of the most critical issues facing our nation, its citizens, and its institutions," said Oates. "WPI is actively engaged in cybersecurity research, and we are grateful to have been recognized for the talent and capacity within our program."
The application for the designation spanned the research and teaching efforts of 10 core faculty members in the Cybersecurity Program across Arts & Sciences and Engineering. They are Fisler, Daniel Dougherty, Joshua Guttman, Craig Shue, Krishna Venkatasubramanian, and Craig Wills of the Computer Science department; Thomas Eisenbarth, Lifeng Lai, and Berk Sunar of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department; and William Martin of the Math department.
Four affiliated faculty members in the Cybersecurity program are Donald (Rick) Brown, Xinming Huang, and Alexander Wyglinski of the Electrical and Computer Engineering department; and Alexander Smith of the Social Science department.
WPI joins Boston University, Northeastern University, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst as centers of academic excellence institutions statewide. There are about 100 institutions on the list nationwide.