Posted on June 14, 2021 by Wendy Frost

UTSA will receive new funding to support its efforts to fight cyberattacks. The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded a $500,000 grant to the Cyber Center for Security and Analytics, an academic center within the Carlos Alvarez College of Business. The money will go toward developing data-driven methods and algorithms to make cyber infrastructure more resilient against ransomware attacks.

“This is a very competitive grant from the National Science Foundation. Typically, it is very difficult for these types of grants to be awarded to a single faculty,” said Elias Bou-Harb, director of the UTSA Cyber Center for Security and Analytics and the principal investigator of the project. “I’m very honored and humbled that the NSF saw immense value in the proposal, which endeavors to address the ransomware problem from a multidimensional perspective.”

Bou-Harb’s research is part of the Cyber Center’s larger mission to apply practical solutions to address the vulnerabilities of the nation’s cybersecurity systems.

Recent ransomware attacks on the health, education and IT sectors have been a stark reminder of the damage wrought by these assaults on our country’s cyber infrastructure.

This new project aims to develop models that will enable researchers to, as Bou-Harb stated, “capture and comprehend the mutating behaviors” of the ransomware.

The goal is to provide attacked industry sectors with “actionable cyber threat intelligence” to mitigate such a debilitating threat. The project will also generate “open-source tools, virtual training material and empirical data to facilitate and empower forward-looking research, operations and training in cyber and digital forensics,” said Bou-Harb, an associate professor of information systems and cyber security.

“The problem of ransomware is causing great damage to the U.S. infrastructure, as seen by the recent attacks on the Colonial Pipeline, the largest pipeline system for refined oil products in the U.S., and JBS, the world’s largest meat processing company,” he said. “The new grant from the NSF will address the ransomware problem by analyzing these attacks targeting U.S. infrastructure and by building defensive and preventative methods. It will also train Ph.D. students in cyber and forensics. We also hope to generate several operation cybersecurity capabilities that the broader community can use in its fight against ransomware.”

Funding for this project comes from the National Science Foundation’s Office of Advanced Cyberinfrastructure and is estimated to continue until 2024.

Today’s world calls for greater collaboration to protect America’s national security infrastructure. UTSA is leading this charge, armed with world-class faculty and a reputation as the undisputed leader in cybersecurity education.

The university’s new National Security Collaboration Center is taking this leadership to the next level, creating a powerful ecosystem to engage government, industry and academia to tackle the nation’s greatest cybersecurity threats.

UTSA is one of the few universities in the nation and the only Hispanic Serving University to hold all three National Center of Excellence designations from the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security, further solidifying its dominance as a leader in cybersecurity. This is in addition to UTSA being home to the No. 1 cybersecurity program in the nation, according to the Ponemon Institute, and nationally recognized for having the best academic support for its online cybersecurity degree.

— Wendy Frost