Newswise — Computer viruses, botnets, trojans, worms, cyber-attacks and identity theft are among the frightening examples of online mischief and crime that many today find scarier than Hollywood's classic sci-fi monsters. Battling this menace requires new ways of thinking. University of Illinois at Chicago doctoral students will soon get their chance to slay this cyber-Hydra through a multi-disciplinary academic attack.
UIC is receiving $3.2 million from the National Science Foundation over the next five years to form an IGERT – an Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program – where doctoral students in a variety of fields will tackle electronic security and privacy matters from business, engineering, legal and social science perspectives.
"Technological expertise is a necessity to fight these threats, but technological solutions divorced from human, social, economic and legal considerations all too often fail," said Robert Sloan, professor and head of computer science and a principal investigator of the IGERT grant.
Lead principal investigator Venkat Venkatakrishnan, associate professor of computer science, has been a pioneering researcher of online security and privacy issues since his own days as a doctoral student. Venkatakrishnan headed up efforts to secure the IGERT grant with the aid of more than a dozen researchers at UIC and other universities.
Sloan, along with Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Richard Warner, has successfully taught courses on privacy and security to a mix of computer science and law students. It convinced him of the benefits to multidisciplinary instruction.
Other co-PIs on the grant include Ranganathan Chandrasekaran, associate professor of information and decision sciences, who will focus on the economics of information security and risk analysis. Steven Jones, professor of communication, will focus on user attitudes towards security and privacy technologies. Annette Valenta, professor of biomedical and health information sciences, will focus on healthcare electronic security and privacy – a major concern as health records increasingly become digitalized.
Between 25 and 30 doctoral students will receive $30,000 annual stipends plus tuition for two years. The first students are likely to start the program in the fall, 2012 semester. Student eligibility requirements include U.S. citizenship or a Green Card.
While IGERT participants will earn their Ph.D.s from various academic departments, Sloan said each will take a required set of five multidisciplinary courses. Each student will write a dissertation on a topic related to electronic security and privacy.
"We anticipate creating a new concentration in electronic security and privacy, so a student will graduate with a Ph.D. in, for example, communications, electrical and computer engineering or computer science with a concentration in electronic security and privacy," he said.
NSF IGERT programs aim to broadly educate graduate students in a range of disciplines, training them to become future leaders in education, research and other professional positions. This is UIC's third IGERT program, the second whose lead investigator is from computer science.
Sloan stressed that the time is right for the new IGERT.
"Malware and cyber-attack losses are estimated to run into at least the billions of dollars a year," he said. "Simultaneously, we face increasing loss of control over our personal information which can be stolen by cyber-attacks or made public through social media."