Patil collaboration earns NSF grant to improve cybersecurity education

Sameer Patil
Sameer Patil

Sameer Patil, an assistant professor at the School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, is the principal investigator on a collaboration with the University of California, Irvine that has been awarded a two-year, $332,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. The award, which is an education (EDU) grant under the NSF’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) program, will allow Patil and his collaborator, Hadar Ziv, to develop learning modules that will introduce basic proficiency in cybersecurity for capstone courses at SICE and UCI.

Capstone projects, which commonly are required to earn a bachelor’s in the computing disciplines, such as informatics and computer science, are designed to apply the knowledge a student has gained during their time in their program. By integrating a cybersecurity element into capstone projects, students will have exposure to the fundamentals of privacy and security that they otherwise may not have received. The research was inspired by Patil’s work under an earlier NSF EAGER award on developing techniques to help software professionals design and build systems in compliance with privacy regulations.

Patil and Ziv plan to develop six learning modules: three focused on privacy and three focused on security.

“We are training a lot of technology students across the country, yet privacy and security knowledge is often not a required part of the curricula,” Patil said. “Interested students may take them as electives, but they’re not usually a graduation requirement. Our learning modules will equip them with the core knowledge of cybersecurity fundamentals and provide them with the resources for further exploration.”

Notably, the modules will be designed to go beyond technical aspects of privacy and security and include relevant social, economic, and regulatory considerations.

“Part of what is challenging about addressing privacy and security aspects in technology is that these are also social issues,” Patil said. “A lot of privacy or security issues that we see in the real world arise because social nuance, user experience, and regulatory compliance have not been taken into account. We want to cover privacy and security not purely from a technical standpoint, but also help students understand how they are connected with the contextual factors, such as norms and expectations, user characteristics, cultural practices, laws and regulations, and more.”

The modules are planned to be delivered first at UCI this academic year followed by a rollout at SICE during the 2019-20 school year. The hope is to inspire all project-based capstone courses in the computing disciplines to incorporate privacy and security considerations as an integral aspect of the projects. The researchers envision tailoring the modules and making them openly available to provide privacy and security training for industry professionals.

“Capstone projects strive to showcase the full range of topics learned during a student’s time in the degree program, and these modules can significantly enhance the real-world, practical education our students receive,” said Nathan Ensmenger, chair of the Department of Informatics at SICE. “We’re excited to be a part of this project, and it continues our leadership in the area of cybersecurity.”

For more on privacy and security at SICE, visit our website.

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