Cyber Corps receives $2.48 million

Monday, October 03, 2011

NSF grant will be used to train "cyber warriors"

NSA visitThe University of Tulsa has received a $2.48 million grant from the National Science Foundation for its flagship Cyber Corps Program that trains "cyber warriors" for the U.S. government and military. The grant, which will help field at least 50 additional students through 2017, brings the total NSF support for TU's Cyber Corps Program to nearly $15 million since 2001.

Cyber Corps Director Sujeet Shenoi, the F.P. Walter Professor of Computer Science and a professor of chemical engineering at TU, said the grant will help "train the next generation of MacGyvers," a nod to the 1980s television show that followed the adventures of a resourceful secret agent.

TU's program received high marks from Dickie George, who served as technical director of information assurance at the U.S. National Security Agency – essentially America's "Q" as in the James Bond movies. George said protecting the country today is very different from what it was during the Cold War as terrorists, organized crime and rogue states pose serious national security threats.

"What we need today are elite cyber warriors, and that's what this program produces. The University of Tulsa is the No. 1 producer of cyber warriors in the country," said George, who was on campus in September to interview 45 Cyber Corps students for the NSA. "There’s no other school in the country that gives students the hands-on training. When they walk in the door (at the NSA), they are ready to take on the problems we face."

About 90 percent of TU Cyber Corps students secure positions at the NSA, Department of Defense or CIA after graduation. Others go on to work for the FBI and other elite federal agencies. Dozens of TU Cyber Corps graduates have served or are serving in countries around the world, protecting U.S. interests.

TU's Cyber Corps Program accepts undergraduate, master's and doctoral students who have strong interests in computer science, computer engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, applied physics, engineering physics, mathematics or law. A new chemical engineering initiative trains students to secure chemical plants and refineries, oil and gas pipelines, and nuclear reactors from sophisticated cyber threats such as the Stuxnet worm that damaged a major Iranian uranium processing facility in 2010.

For a university environment, TU's Cyber Corps students receive unique and highly specialized training. In addition, to completing advanced computer science, engineering and cyber security classes, they acquire "MacGyver skills" such as stalking persons of interest, constructing a GPS antenna from PVC piping and copper wire, picking locks and escaping from handcuffs. Working with Fortune 500 companies and state and local agencies, program participants learn to penetrate sophisticated technological defenses and probe for weaknesses in computer systems that control gas pipelines, the electric power grid, water and sewage treatment plants and city traffic lights.

As part of their training, Cyber Corps students work closely with Tulsa Police Department detectives and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents on major criminal cases. Cyber Corps students helped solve a 2003 Tulsa triple homicide case that was the subject of "Fate Date," a Forensic Files TV episode that first aired in February 2011.

In 2008, the U.S. Secret Service established a world-class laboratory in Tulsa to leverage the skills of Cyber Corps students. The U.S. Secret Service Cell Phone Forensic Facility at TU researches new devices, operating systems and technologies. Working alongside U.S. Secret Service personnel, Cyber Corps students have developed techniques for extracting digital evidence from burned or shattered cell phones and other devices. Also, they have helped train many agents from the U.S. Secret Service, Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and state and local departments. To date, graduates of the U.S. Secret Service training program at TU have completed more than 5,000 mobile device examinations, including at least 100 that required the development of special processes to extract vital evidence.

Victor Sheymov, a Soviet KGB agent who defected to the United States in 1980 and later worked with the NSA, was on campus in September. Sheymov, who mentors TU Cyber Corps students, said the program has a national reputation for its integrity and technological excellence. "These students have killer instincts," he said.

Sheymov, the CEO of Reston, Va.- based INVICTA Networks Inc., said his company develops advanced cyber security products and often asks TU students to test them. "I'm not easily impressed, but these guys are really good," he said. He added that Cyber Corps students were able to penetrate one of two systems recently assigned to them. The other system, which the students could not break, has not been compromised by anyone.

According to Sheymov, attackers who threaten U.S. security have already quietly infiltrated critical infrastructure systems that could impact Americans' everyday activities. Now, it will be up to dedicated and resourceful defenders, such as those coming up through TU's Cyber Corps, to locate and defend against the malware that has been planted deep within our critical infrastructure networks.

"Our adversaries are working with state-of-the-art technology, so we've got to be a step ahead," George said. "This is not a game. This is not an exercise. This is life and death."

For more information about The University of Tulsa's Cyber Corps Program, please visit


Mona Chamberlin