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NSF grant will help IU train next generation of AI, cybersecurity professionals

Aug 30, 2021
Sagar Samtani stands at the front of a classroom of students
Sagar Samtani, assistant professor of operations and decision technologies at the IU Kelley School of Business, lectures on topics related to artificial intelligence at IU.Photo by George Vlahakis, IU Kelley School of Business

Building on its success in preparing professionals for careers in cybersecurity, Indiana University has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation for a new project to train the next generation of the nation’s crucial cybersecurity workforce to address vulnerabilities and identify threats using artificial intelligence.

The $242,863 award supplements a $2.25 million NSF grant last year that established IU as a participating institution in CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service. This national program trains information technology professionals and security managers to meet rapidly growing cybersecurity needs of federal, state, local and tribal governments.

The first group of IU’s Scholarship for Service scholars began their studies this fall. They are pursuing master’s degrees in cybersecurity risk management and secure computing and doctoral degrees in cybersecurity from the IU Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering.

Sagar Samtani, assistant professor of operations and decision technologies and a Grant Thornton Scholar at the IU Kelley School of Business, said that artificial intelligence is increasingly efficient and effective in improving cybersecurity protection, and that AI’s role in cybersecurity has rapidly become a critical concern worldwide.

“AI’s value for cybersecurity is in its ability to automatically sift through large quantities of data, including malware, log files and the Dark Web, and detect patterns missed by manual analysis,” said Samtani, also a fellow at the IU Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research.

“In its simplest form, AI can help cybersecurity analysts better prioritize their assets, manage their vulnerabilities, detect threats and allocate controls,” said Scott Shackelford, chair of the IU Cybersecurity Program, executive director of the Ostrom Workshop and an associate professor of business law and ethics at the Kelley School.

“Knowing how to effectively train the next generation of ‘cyber-AI’ professionals who are well-equipped with knowledge on how to deploy AI algorithms and systems for critical cybersecurity applications requires swift and decisive action, attention and investment from policymakers,” added Shackelford, a principal investigator on the new grant supplement.

Other co-principal investigators are Samtani – who will spearhead the new effort – Von Welch, director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, and Apu Kapadia, professor of computer science in the Luddy School.

The NSF-funded project will include three major initiatives to ascertain the current state of cyber-AI education and develop curricular recommendations for the more than 90 CyberCorps programs nationwide. The goal is to provide students with the understanding of AI that they need to be top-tier candidates for jobs and contributors to the nation’s cybersecurity workforce.

The researchers’ initial findings are expected to be presented in January at a national meeting of Scholarship for Service principal investigators. The event includes a job fair for students, where the researchers plan to receive feedback and recommendations and determine next steps. Included will be top employers in the cybersecurity industry, who will describe the cyber-AI needs for their organizations and job roles.

“We believe that our report, including its discoveries and recommendations, will provide clearer and more targeted strategies for successfully integrating cyber-AI concepts and materials into curricula,” Samtani said.

IU is a global leader in applied, interdisciplinary cybersecurity training, which prepares graduates to tackle a wide range of emerging threats and electronic warfare. The university is also a growing national leader in AI research and education. Samtani, an alumnus of the NSF Scholarship for Service program at the University of Arizona, researches the use of AI in cybersecurity in Dark Web analytics, smart vulnerability assessment, open-source software security and the security of AI at scale. IU also is home to the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, which has advanced executive applied and operational cybersecurity research for nearly two decades.

IU’s leadership in AI research will be featured in the upcoming AI Week in Indiana, a week-long series of discussions among researchers, business and government leaders from across the state’s AI ecosystem to share ideas and research and foster future collaborations.


Kelley School of Business

George Vlahakis

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