The best in education
The best in education

The University of Colorado,
Colorado Springs

For the last two years, UCCS has played a pivotal role in developing and expanding the National Cybersecurity Center (NCC) in Colorado.

The national nonprofit organization, housed on university-owned property, includes three key components: a Cyber Research, Education and Training Center; a Rapid Response Center that helps mitigate security breaches; and a Cyber Institute that operates as a government and private sector cybersecurity think tank.

“The vision is simple – pretty daunting, but simple: For Colorado and Colorado Springs to be a national leader in cyber education, training and research and in industry cyber response capability,” said UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak at an on-campus briefing prior to the NCC's opening, as reported by the UCCS Communique, the school's official news website for faculty and staff.

Partnering with UCCS on the NCC are additional higher education institutions, as well as the private sector, military (including the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy West Point), and government at all levels.

In November 2017, the UCCS also announced a new collaboration with Cisco Systems to open a Cybersecurity Workforce Development Center that operates in conjunction with the NCC. Together, Cisco and UCCS will develop capabilities to facilitate a curriculum and a training program for individuals to work in cybersecurity, joint research opportunities and student internships.

“As our country and state face looming challenges in cybersecurity, we need to ensure that both Colorado and the nation are as prepared as possible for possible breaches. Our partners that are working to create the National Cybersecurity Center (NCC) will ensure that Colorado is the center for carrying out this mission,” said Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, during the NCC's early development stage. “Colorado already has a very strong concentration of private sector companies and military organizations that work in cybersecurity, so it makes perfect sense that NCC would make Colorado Springs its home.”

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Leave it to Ben-Gurion University to find new and seemingly unheard-of ways to compromise an air-gapped network.

In September 2017, academic researchers at the Israel-based institution, in conjunction with the Shamoon College of Engineering, demonstrated aIR-Jumper, a technique for remote attackers to exfiltrate data from and send malicious commands to air-gapped networks, using infrared surveillance cameras.

The air-gap covert channel attack allows actors to encode sensitive data like PIN codes, passwords, encryption keys and keylogging information onto infrared light emitted by surveillance cameras, and then subsequently capture and decipher that data. Attackers can also can send command-and-control and beaconing messages to air-gapped systems by transmitting infrared signals – invisible to the human eye – into the cameras.

One year earlier, Ben-Gurion researchers created USBee, a software program that causes air-gapped computers to leak binary data via radio-frequency electromagnetic emissions generated through USB-connected devices. Around the same time, university researchers also unveiled DiskFiltration, a method to leak information from air-gapped computers using intrinsic covert noises emitted from the device's hard drive.

And there was also Fansmitter malware, which Ben-Gurion researchers created to steal data from an air-gapped computer by manipulating the speed of its CPU and chassis cooling fan in order to create sound signals that can be picked up by a smartphone's microphone.

But Ben-Gurion's security research is hardly limited to air-gapped networks. In August 2017, university researchers warned that mobile users who substitute their damaged phone touchscreens or other hardware components with third-party replacements could be infecting their phones with malicious components that could allow attackers to compromise the device.

To demonstrate this, the researchers installed a replacement touchscreen with a malicious microcontroller on a Huawei Nexus 6P smartphone, in order to perform a “touch injection attack” that records, exfiltrates, or injects touch events on a device. They also carried out a buffer overflow attack that lets the attacker execute arbitrary code within the privileged kernel.

Also in late 2016, researchers unveiled a proof-of-concept malware called SPEAKEaR that essentially converts headphones and other speaker devices plugged into a computer's audio output jack into a microphone that secretly records nearby conversations.

University of Maryland,
College Park & University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Two prominent institutions within the University System of Maryland commenced new programs this year that further raise their state's profile in the cyber sector.

In October 2017, the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) officially entered into partnership with the Center for Internet Security (CIS), establishing a joint cybersecurity research initiative that will allow the school and the non-profit organization to leverage each other's respective strengths and infrastructures.

UMD and CIS anticipate that the multidisciplinary initiative will “increase inter-institutional engagement of research centers, faculty, staff and students; share specialized research facilities and equipment; enhance the availability of technical training and job-related continuing education; develop curriculum for joint activities; and create opportunities for student engagement through internships, graduate assistantships and experiential learning,” according to a press release announcing the partnership.

“Bringing together the right partners in government, the private and nonprofit sectors, and academic institutions is critical to prepare ourselves for the cyber century,” said School of Public Policy Dean Robert Orr. “This partnership is the embodiment of the action we need to bridge the technical and policy worlds to have a real impact on people and organizations.”

Months earlier, state officials, along with leaders at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and its bwtech@UMBC Research & Technology Park, announced the formation of iCyberCenter@bwtech – a new on-campus, international cybersecurity center, designed to lure international cyber companies to the state and create more jobs in the process.

iCyberCenter@bwtech provides an executive training session and a year-long incubator for companies based in the U.K. and other friendly nations. Officials expect that that 10 to 15 companies will participate in the program annually, according to a press release from the office of Maryland Government Larry Hogan. “Maryland is home to a world-class academic community that is conducting critical research, exploring the latest technologies, and educating the next generation of cyber innovators,” said Hogan in the release.

“The creation of the iCyberCenter@bwtech will further develop UMBC's cybersecurity ecosystem, and will continue to build Maryland's reputation as a leader in the cyber industry,” added UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski, also in the release. 

Cornell Tech

The September 2017 grand opening of Cornell Tech's new campus on New York's Roosevelt Island was a watershed moment for the engineering and applied sciences school, a joint venture between Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.

The five-acre campus, which will expand to 12 acres in phases over the next 30 years, will serve as a national technology hub that specializes in cybersecurity and related fields, including blockchain technology, machine learning and big data, biometric authentication, and Internet of Things.

Plans for the campus were given the green light in 2011, after Cornell Tech won the city's Applied Sciences Competition, which evaluated projects designed to diversify New York's economy and add technology jobs. According to a Cornell Tech press release, in 2011 New York estimated that the new campus would generate “up to 8,000 permanent jobs, hundreds of spin-off companies and more than $23 billion in economic activity over a period of 35 years.”

“With the opening of Cornell Tech, Cornell University, in partnership with the Technion, is defining a new model for graduate education – a model that melds cutting-edge research and education with entrepreneurship and real-world application,” said Cornell University President Martha Pollack, in the release.

“Today's Cornell Tech campus opening marks the beginning of a new chapter in the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute's ongoing work to foster innovation in New York and beyond,” added Professor Peretz Lavie, president of Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. “In partnership with Cornell, we've developed a model of graduate-level technology education that is unlike any other – one that's tailor-made not only for New York City, but for the challenges of the digital revolution.”

At the official opening, current Mayor Bill de Blasio, who inherited the project from the Michael Bloomberg administration, hailed the new campus. “Jobs in the tech ecosystem are jobs families can live on,” said de Blasio, who earlier that year had announced ambitions to turn New York into a major cybersecurity hub. 

Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government

In reaction to Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School launched the Defending Digital Democracy Project (D3P) in July 2017. The bipartisan initiative is designed to defend the electoral process from hackers by recommending sound cyber practices, tools and technologies.

Leading the effort is Eric Rosenbach, Belfer Center co-director and former U.S. Assistant secretary of defense; Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign manager; and Matt Rhoades, Mitt Romney's 2012 campaign manager.

“Americans across the political spectrum agree that political contests should be decided by the power of ideas, not the skill of foreign hackers,” said Rosenbach, in a Belfer Center press release. “Cyber deterrence starts with strong cyber defense – and this project brings together key partners in politics, national security, and technology to generate innovative ideas to safeguard our key democratic institutions.

In November 2017, the D3P released the first edition of “The Cybersecurity Campaign Playbook,” a guide to help election campaign operatives – even those without technical backgrounds – protect their candidates from hacker interference. The guide divides cyber hygiene into six categories: Human Element, Communication, Account Access and Management, Incident Response Planning, Devices, and Networks. For each category, the playbook recommends basic measures that every campaign must institute to have a minimum level of network and data security, as well as enhanced steps that can significantly reduce risk of a damaging attack.