The Charger Blog

Office of Naval Research Grant Puts University of New Haven at the Forefront of Training Next Generation of Cybersecurity Professionals

As part of the Cyber Operative REsearch Scholars (CORES) program, a dozen students are taking part in technical and cutting-edge cybersecurity research, positioning them for cybersecurity government positions and being published in scholarly journals.

February 16, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Students working together.
The University's CORES program is a rigorous yearlong research residency opportunity that positions students for cybersecurity government positions.

Keelan Carey ’22 is gaining hands-on experience in cybersecurity research that is enabling him to build a foundation for a successful career. He is currently working on a research paper, and he plans to share his work with the University community.

Carey is an inaugural member of the Cyber Operative REsearch Scholars (CORES) program at the University of New Haven. Since joining in August, he has been researching the cybersecurity field and exploring his own interests. He and his research partner are studying neural networks and open-source intelligence (OSINT) collection methods, and they are working to determine whether automated OSINT collection methods are vulnerable to attacks.

“I have been introduced to what seems like a never-ending stream of information about cybersecurity and machine learning,” said Carey, a national security major. “I have learned about machine learning, OSINT collection methods, coding in python, adversarial machine learning, transformers, and the list goes on. Being so new to this field is exciting because there is always something to learn, especially considering how often state-of-the-art discoveries are made.”

‘I am excited to track their progress’

Carey is one of a dozen students who are taking part in the program. They are broken into two teams – one, which includes Carey, is led by Vahid Behzadan, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University’s Tagliatela College of Engineering, and the other is led by Ibrahim Baggili, Ph.D., the lead principle investigator of the program, Elder Family Chair, and director of the University's Connecticut Institute of Technology.

The innovative program is a rigorous yearlong research residency opportunity that endeavors to position students for cybersecurity government positions. They take part in hands-on and technical research projects and build strong cybersecurity research skills.

As part of the group research experience, students develop a proposal outlining their research project, then collaborate on work in areas such as digital forensics, artificial intelligence (AI) security, and the applications of AI and machine learning to cybersecurity.

“The CORES program has so far been a tremendous success in training the next generation of cybersecurity researchers,” said Dr. Behzadan. “Our undergraduate students are not only learning about the fundamentals of cybersecurity and AI research, but they are also gaining hands-on experience by investigating cutting-edge problems, such as the security of brain-computer interfaces and AI-enabled intelligence collection systems. I am proud of how far all of our CORES students have come so far, and I am excited to track their progress in the coming months.”

‘Our students are working on amazing projects’

Drs. Behzadan and Baggili are teaching them about the research process, and the students’ experience will culminate in a symposium at which they will present their work to the University community and to the public. Groups will also submit their manuscripts for review to academic journals and conferences.

In addition to their research, students will develop an entrepreneurial mindset through online training, and they will complete online Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) courses on topics such as collaborative research, mentoring, and data management.

Alex Sitterer ’24, a member of Dr. Baggili’s team, is researching methods for translating the electromagnetic radiation a wired keyboard gives off back into the keys, aiming to understand how this can be made into a more viable attack vector.

“I have developed skills related to writing academic papers and hardware prototyping,” said Sitterer, a cybersecurity and networks major. “One of the things Dr. Baggili stresses is how crucial papers, research, and projects are in this field. By publishing this paper, I hope to be able to get more well known in this field.”

Funded by a grant of more than $250,000 from the Office of Naval Research, CORES aims to meet the rising need for a highly trained science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce while also instilling an entrepreneurial mindset in students. The grant ensures that undergraduate students are paid an hourly wage for their work, and the two graduate research assistants earn that plus a 75 percent scholarship for tuition.

“The CORES program has been an excellent driver for undergraduate research in cybersecurity,” said Dr. Baggili. “It is an excellent opportunity for students to get their feet wet and to learn how to conduct leading-edge research in cybersecurity, while also getting paid to do that work.

“Our students are working on amazing projects, most of which will end up being published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at conferences,” he continued. “We have first-year students doing incredible work in two-factor authentication forensics, keyboard TEMPEST attacks, and myriad of other really novel projects.”

‘The very beginning of my professional career’

Syrina Haldiman '22 M.S., who graduated from Mary Baldwin University last May when she was just 18 years old, is currently a graduate research assistant in the CORES program. A candidate in the University’s graduate program in cybersecurity and networks, she is a member of Dr. Baggili’s team.

“I was excited for the opportunity to gain more cybersecurity experience because I did not have a background in cybersecurity,” she said. “Through this grant and this position, I have developed leadership skills, and I've learned about digital forensics through my research with my partner. It has been a challenging position, and the experience has been very rewarding.”

The program is open to students who are already on the cyber operations career path, as well as students of all majors in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). The University of New Haven, which has been designated by the National Security Agency (NSA) as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations (CAE-CO), has the largest ROTC program in Connecticut, as well as in the Northeast.

Carey, the national security major, is also an ROTC cadet. His participation in the program offers specific benefits that can help him with his military career. Cadets across the country are ranked according to the Order of Merit List (OML) based on factors such as GPA, co-curricular activities, and employment. His participation in the program enables him to receive credit for his research work and accumulate points that will contribute to his ranking.

“Given that I will be ranked against 9,000 other cadets, every point counts,” he said. “There is an increased likelihood that I will be selected for my top branch choice the higher I rank on the OML. This will be the very beginning of my professional career.”