Modern field guide to security and privacy

How one university is approaching the 'wicked problem' of cybersecurity

Arizona State University launches the Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics with a multidisciplinary approach to cyber’s biggest challenges.

Arizona State University
(From left) Todd Hardy, senior economic development adviser, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development; Stephen Yau, professor, School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering; Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president for Knowledge Enterprise Development; Gail-Joon Ahn, director of Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics; Jamie Winterton, director of strategic research initiatives at Global Security Initiative and Nadya Bliss, director of Global Security Initiative.

The challenges that we face as a nation, as the world, require interdisciplinary approaches. It is impossible to address what we call a ‘wicked problem’ with a single discipline. At Arizona State University’s Global Security Initiative, we work on several of these globe-spanning wicked problems, like the security impacts of climate change and the future of human security.

But in this age of interconnectedness and complexity, cybersecurity is among the foremost issues of our security as a human race. As such, we are thrilled to launch a proactive, interdisciplinary approach to cybersecurity with the Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics.

Regardless of what domain discipline or ‘wicked area’ you’re working on -- whether it’s pandemics, climate impact, identity, privacy, potential political instability -- cybersecurity touches it all. It’s an incredibly important space to look at holistically because it affects us all holistically.

Gail-Joon Ahn, an expert in security analytics and big-data-driven security intelligence, will serve as the center’s director. Ahn is a professor in ASU’s School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“As recent events in the news clearly illustrate, the security and defense of our nation’s cyber infrastructure is vital to our economic and political stability and proferssor Ahn is the ideal choice to lead the center,” remarked Kyle Squires, Interim Dean for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. “ Cybersecurity is a strategically important area for the Fulton Schools and we look forward to supporting the center and its accomplishments.”

The center’s launch event included speakers from law, business and psychology, as well as Sethuraman Panchanathan, senior vice president of ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development (OKED). OKED advances research, entrepreneurship and economic development activities at ASU.

“ASU’s strength in connecting public and private partners for research, education and innovation allows us to effectively address the most pressing global challenges,” said Panchanathan. “The new Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics brings an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to the emerging and constantly changing field of digital security. This positions ASU as the partner of choice for industry and government institutions working to create solutions in the U.S. and around the world.”

Cybersecurity is inherently interdisciplinary, which is why the center has engaged nearly 30 faculty members across eight academic units.

Such a collaborative approach will give the program’s students the diversity of experiences they need to succeed in a workforce desperately seeking cybersecurity talent.

“When we talk to our industry partners they say they’re looking for people who are more smart generalists, who are mentally flexible, who are creative problem solvers,” said Jamie Winterton, director of strategic research initiatives at the Global Security Initiative. “We’ve developed a program where these students can get a lot more hands-on experience because that’s where you develop a lot of these skills. Cybersecurity is a lot like gymnastics. You can read all the books on gymnastics you want, but once you approach the uneven bars, you better have some real-world practice under your belt or it isn’t going to go so well.”

Cybersecurity research tends to focus on software solutions, but there is a human element to every cyber attack. Researchers at the center will explore the economic, cultural, legal and policy issues surrounding cybersecurity as well as the technological challenges.

“As we are moving toward a very mobile and cyber-dependent society, it is critical to deal with diverse security challenges raised in dynamic and rapidly changing IT-centric environments. We desperately need to pursue a multidisciplinary and comprehensive approach to cope with such challenges,” said Ahn. “In addition, it is imperative to focus on specific areas that can fully leverage ASU's capabilities in the cybersecurity area. This center will help prioritize areas that we should focus on, while expanding current security-related research activities and collaborating with diverse experts at ASU.”

Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics researchers will collaborate with other universities, government agencies and industry partners to advance cybersecurity and digital forensics research.

The center will focus on three pillars — education, research and innovation — to help produce an outstanding workforce in the area of national security; tackle short-term and long-term security challenges via top-notch research expertise and activities; and significantly contribute to economic growth in Arizona and the U.S. by transferring innovative and patented technologies to the marketplace.

Nadya T. Bliss is the Director of the Global Security Initiative (GSI) at Arizona State University. Nadya holds a Professor of Practice appointment in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, Senior Sustainability Scientist appointment in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. Follow her on Twitter at @NadyaBliss.

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