Members of the University’s CORES (Cyber Operative REsearch Scholars) program recently shared their innovative work with the University, the community, the public and leaders in the field of cybersecurity.
May 11, 2021
Steven Atilho ’22 has always been fascinated by the dark web. He recently conducted cutting-edge research that explored the dark web and cybersecurity, uncovering ways to tackle the growing problem of cybercriminals selling personally identifiable information, such as social security numbers and banking information.
A graduate in computer science, Atilho is a member of the University’s CORES (Cyber Operative Research Scholars) program. As part of the program’s inaugural symposium, he recently presented his one-year research project to the academic community and leaders in the cybersecurity field.
“The symposium was a great opportunity to present my cumulative findings to government and military cyber leaders,” said Atilho, a first generation student. “Since my job is aimed at helping law enforcement de-anonymize / prosecute dark web cybercriminals, this has been a wonderful opportunity to bond with those leaders who might be interested in investigating my findings or replicating my methodology.”
Atilho is one of a group of students participating in technical and cutting-edge cybersecurity research under the CORES program. The students were divided into two teams, one led by Vahid Behzadan, Ph.D., assistant professor at the University’s Tagliatela College of Engineering, and the other by Ibrahim Baggili, Ph.D., the investigator. program principal, Elder Family President and Director of the University’s Connecticut Institute of Technology.
Karrie LeDuc-Santoro ’23 says being part of the program has so far been the best experience she has had in college.
“I’ve learned that it’s important to trust your teammates and build a relationship with them that lets you get the job done,” said LeDuc-Santoro, cybersecurity and networking specialist. “I learned a lot of soft skills, like speaking in front of crowds and being confident in my abilities, as well as the technical aspects of learning.”
“ At the forefront of what we need to do as a country ”
Funded by a grant of over $ 250,000 from Naval Research Office (ONR), the CORES program aims to meet the growing need for a highly skilled workforce in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) while instilling an entrepreneurial spirit in students. Undergraduates receive an hourly wage for their work in the program, and the two graduate research assistants earn it plus a 75% scholarship for tuition.
The students’ experience in the program recently culminated in a symposium that the Connecticut Institute of Technology co-hosted with the Association of Military Cyber Professionals (MCPA) which was supported by the ONR.
In addition to their research, the students sought to develop an entrepreneurial spirit through online training, and they completed online Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI) courses on topics such as collaborative research, mentoring and data management.
“For me, what makes or destroys cybersecurity is research and entrepreneurship, and that’s what the students all experienced in CORES,” Dr Baggili said during the presentation. symposium. “President Biden recently said in a speech that cybersecurity is at the forefront of what we need to do as a country, and I think we’re on the right track with a program like CORES.”
‘It was amazing’
Providing a rigorous research residency opportunity throughout one year, the program enables undergraduate and graduate students to participate in practical and technical group research projects while developing strong cybersecurity research skills. .
For Syrina Haldiman ’22 MS, a candidate in the University’s graduate program in Cybersecurity and Networks and a graduate research assistant in the CORES program, the past year has provided an invaluable and unique learning experience.
“It was amazing,” said Haldiman, a graduate of Mary Baldwin University last year, when she was just 18. “I appreciated the most being able to work and receive advice from influential people in my field. I also learned technical skills including how to write a research paper and digital forensic processes that I would not otherwise learn until later in my career without this grant.
‘Accept the challenges of practical research’
Dr. Michael Simpson, Director of Education and Workforce at ONR, attended the virtual presentations. He told the students that he was very impressed with their research and presentations.
“You are part of a rather small group of people who have been approved to meet all the requirements of the program,” he said. “All of this to ensure that national security needs are met, to make sure we have people trained in research and ready to meet whatever requirements the country needs to stay safe.”
Dr Daniel “Rags” Ragsdale, the Senior Director of Cybercrime in the Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (Research and Technology), delivered the keynote address. He praised the CORES program for preparing students for critical work and for allowing them to step out of their comfort zone and develop as leaders.
“Research, I believe, is a great way to develop the minds of students,” he said. “The skills, knowledge and abilities they develop will be useful to them. As part of the program, important research is carried out which will undoubtedly push the boundaries of knowledge. Learning is not a passive activity. It is more effective to leave the stands and go out into the field, to leave your comfort zone and accept the challenges of practical research. Students are not containers, they are combustible materials. ”
‘The importance of not limiting yourself and not limiting yourself to your research’
As part of the group research experience, students developed a proposal describing their research project and then conducted research as a team, working in areas such as digital forensics, artificial intelligence security and applications of AI and machine learning to cybersecurity. In addition to presenting their research at the symposium, the groups will also submit their manuscripts to academic journals and conferences.
“Our CORES students have tackled issues at the heart of the brave new world that we wake up to every day,” said Dr Behzadan. “As a mentor and advisor, I really enjoyed working with them and guiding them in their training and research projects. We are very proud of how far our students have come in this program and we are very proud of their accomplishments. Their projects all deserve more research. ”
As part of the ceremony, two teams of students were recognized for their work. Cyber security and networking majors Nicholas Dubois ’24 and Alex Sitterer ’24 were honored alongside National Security Major Keelan Carey ’22 and Rachel Blumenthal (junior Yale which was part of the program).
Carey says he was fascinated and inspired by what he learned about the breadth and depth of the cybersecurity field, as well as the other cybersecurity research he learned – so much so that he is now considering pursuing his master’s degree in cybersecurity.
“My team’s advisor, Dr Behzadan, instilled in us the importance of not limiting yourself and your research,” said Carey. “He clarified that while deadlines are an important part of planning and scheduling projects, they should never hold your curiosity or your research. It was a wonderful opportunity to represent the University and hopefully play a small role in securing future research grants so that there can be another CORES program.