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ROTC cadets at UNM studying cybersecurity measures

It’s common knowledge in this increasingly technological world with more complex and interconnected systems, cyber and electronic threats continue to grow at an alarming rate.

A University of New Mexico instructor wearing augmented reality goggles poses with a drone to illustrate some hardware associated with a new cybersecurity training program for ROTC cadets, courtesy of the U.S. Navy. (Source: UNM News Service)

Threats range from credit card and banking security to warfare threats against the United States. Adding to the complexity is the fact that some threats are intentional, like hacking, or unintentional, resulting from an event like a natural disaster prompting a computer malfunction that takes down critical services.

That reality is prompting a need for greater education in the area of cybersecurity. To meet the growing demand to fight cybercrime, the U.S. Navy has established a program at The University of New Mexico to train ROTC cadets in cybersecurity.

“Engaging University of New Mexico ROTC Cadets in Cybersecurity Research” began Jan. 1. The program, part of the Office of Naval Research Navy ROTC Cybersecurity Training Program, will provide hands-on training to cadets as they earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering or computer science. The program is also open to cadets in the Air Force ROTC and Army ROTC at UNM.

The selected cohort of cadets will be performing paid undergraduate research in the laboratories of three School of Engineering faculty members: Fernando Moreu, who is the principal investigator on the project and an assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering; Christopher Lamb, research assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Francesco Sorrentino, an associate professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“This project is a real multidisciplinary approach to cybersecurity,” Moreu said. “The three of us are looking at various projects that we plan to interrelate along the way while advancing areas that emphasize student learning, hands-on involvement, and undergraduate research. We hope to contribute and train our soldiers to become leaders in secure, reliable, safer cyber-physical systems, with an emphasis on outdoor systems, infrastructure, and power grids that need to be protected. We are thrilled to contribute with our research and education through service to our ROTC cadets.”

Moreu said the emphasis will be hands-on in sensors development and design of their protection to attacks and/or failure; programming, protecting, and cost-efficiently managing data, wireless sensors networks, and systems.

“We will work together combining the building of sensors with the understanding (and control) of chaos or attacks to critical infrastructure,” he said. “As multi-disciplinary researchers, this is a unique opportunity to work together and we are looking forward to star the various projects.”

In particular, the cadets will have the opportunity to learn in-depth about several critical areas as part of the project including: unmanned aerial systems with laser and cameras for dynamic sensing; augmented reality for real-time damage assessment of structures; low-cost efficient wireless intelligent sensors; transient analysis of cascading failures in power grids; protection of critical infrastructures against coordinated attacks; design of secure communication protocols; analysis of FPGA systems in instrumentation and control; cybersecurity and software defined radio.

The project is funded through a Department of Defense grant of $250,000 through Dec. 31.

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