Creating cyber protection tools

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

On any given day, a crack team of highly trained New Mexico Tech professionals is helping the federal government defend the homeland against cyber attacks and vulnerabilities.

The 12-member group operates through the Institute for Complex Additive Systems Analysis, a nonprofit research division at Tech that regularly receives federal requests to answer questions and solve problems to protect critical national infrastructure.

“We provide situational feedback to the government to determine if something bad is happening to a network and where the vulnerabilities are,” said institute Director Michael Smith. “The questions come in as technology task orders. In a good year, we get up to 12 such orders.”

The institute, together with Tech’s CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program for students, has given the university a premier reputation as a go-to place for cutting-edge research and education in cybersecurity. In fact, those things go hand in hand, with some 150 students gaining real-world skills and knowledge through internships at the institute, which is federally certified as both a Center of Academic Excellence for Information Assurance Education, and for Information Assurance Research.

The institute has built proprietary tools for complex systems research that help pinpoint problems and devise solutions to protect utility infrastructure, computer networks, financial markets, telecommunications systems and more.

One patented system, dubbed the Internet Monitor, helps to rapidly detect, classify and locate large-scale disruptions in the internet. It provides near real-time indications and warnings for the internet’s health at a global scale.

In fact, the institute’s research led to the creation of the Albuquerque-based cybersecurity firm RiskSense, a successful startup that uses a proprietary software system to constantly monitor computer networks to detect and plug vulnerabilities at businesses and institutions.

The institute collaborates closely with Tech’s Computer Science and Engineering department, where faculty and students work together on cybersecurity research that helps create new tools while simultaneously educating the next generation of cyber professionals, said department chair and associate professor Dongwan Shin.

“We provide the needed foundation to students, including strong coding skills and theoretical aspects of computer technology to apply to cybersecurity,” Shin said.

Shin led a team of students to build new software that can immediately tell people whether a network is secure before logging on.

The department boasts one of the oldest computer science and engineering programs in the nation. Since 1966, it’s awarded nearly 1,000 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

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