The Never-Ending Story: Securing Cyberspace

Posted: June 22, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: June 19, 2009 at 10:23 am

By Jennifer Edgerly

<p>Sushil Jajodia, director of CSIS. Creative Services photo</p>

Sushil Jajodia, director of CSIS. Creative Services photo

Information is an important strategic and operational corporate asset that creates a need for adequate security measures to safeguard sensitive material. And, at a time when people are constantly on the move, it’s necessary to ensure information’s safe transmission, whether it is taking place on a secure computer network, from a cell phone or from an Internet café.

In spite of its importance, there is still a shortage of truly comprehensive university research programs dedicated to information system security.

However, Mason’s Center for Secure Information Systems (CSIS), created in 1990 by Sushil Jajodia, provides an environment committed to encouraging expertise development in both the theoretical and applied aspects of information systems security.

The center has the distinction of being the first academic center in security established at a U.S. university.

While CSIS conducts a broad spectrum research and development program on information system security, its researchers also provide technical support to industry and government. CSIS’ research scope encompasses information secrecy, integrity and availability problems in military, civil and commercial sectors.

“The center has a dedicated full-time team of scientists, engineers and software developers with a wide range of expertise,” says Jajodia, adding that the center’s eight researchers regularly collaborate with Mason faculty in computer science and electrical and computer engineering.

“Our range and depth of experience has allowed us to understand and anticipate future requirements in information security and to formulate innovative solutions and build high-quality tools to meet those requirements.”

200362007-001Government and Private Sponsorship

CSIS has produced licensed works, filed for multiple patents and benefitted from a long history of federal agency and commercial sector sponsorship.

Some government agencies that sponsor CSIS research are the National Security Agency (NSA), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, National Science Foundation and Federal Aviation Administration. CSIS also has working relationships with companies such as Raytheon, BAE Systems and MITRE Corporation.

Since 2006, the center has seen its total award amount increase 62 percent from just over $2.6 million to more than $4.2 million in 2008.

Along with recently licensing its Cauldron software, which identifies complex cyber network attacks, and receiving two equipment grants totaling approximately $400,000, the center also received a new grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) and a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) award. This is the second MURI award the center has received in a little more than two years.

  • The AFOSR grant will allow the researchers to create a new, dynamic approach for interaction of networked systems. According to Jajodia, there are three types of requirements related to a user task: task requirements (e.g., audio, video); requirements imposed by an organization’s security policy (e.g., data must be encrypted); and requirements related to quality-of-service (e.g., images must have high resolution). The new system proposed by CSIS will take all these requirements into account and automatically compose systems to fulfill the user task.
  • The MURI award, sponsored by the Army Research Office, is for research relating to cyber situational awareness. When a security incident occurs, the top three questions security administrators ask are, in essence: What has happened? Why did it happen? What should I do? Answers to the first two questions form the core of cyber situational awareness.

Teaching Security at Every Level

Housed in the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering, the center also has an academic focus and develops courses dealing with information systems security.

While the center emphasizes doctoral research and producing students with a PhD in security, it also offers many other degrees and concentrations at the master’s and undergraduate levels.

“When recruiting students for our doctoral program, we are competing with universities such as Stanford, Princeton and Carnegie Mellon,” says Jajodia. “Many of our students secure jobs in industry or government after graduating from Mason, and others become professors. Four of my former students have received National Science Foundation Career Awards, which is highly prestigious and a measure of how well our students are doing.”

Recognized since 1999 as one of the NSA’s original Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education, CSIS was awarded the new NSA designation of National Centers of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Research in 2008.

Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu