Online Security Technology and Hacking Risk Alert Concept

Written by Richard Broderick

It is a truism – if not an outright cliché—the world is becoming ever more connected.

No longer is it only possible to pick up a phone and instantly reach someone living on the other side of the world. Now we can post a video on YouTube or a comment on Twitter and have them, potentially, viewed instantly by any of the billions of people currently hooked up to the Internet—all but a handful of them complete strangers to us (and to each other).

But not only is the world increasingly connected, it is also increasingly interconnected. Once separate, autonomous enterprises, agencies, businesses and institutions are now interwoven into that same web of cyberspace that lets us display photos of our kitten on Facebook. In turn, that keeps raising the level of exposure of those previously autonomous entities to the risk of cyber attack. These can originate from amateur hackers motivated by nothing more complex than the wish to play a good prank, to companies and countries seeking to steal proprietary information or get a jump on their rivals, to terrorists hoping to wreak havoc on power grids, water treatment systems or nuclear weapons programs.

Trying to prevent that from happening is the Technological Leadership Institute (TLI), a multi-disciplinary center within the University’s College of Science and Engineering whose degree programs focus on technological security, with cyber security as the centerpiece.

Massoud Amin, professor of electrical engineering and the director of TLI, is a noted expert on security and technological innovation. Regularly consulted by government agencies and industries, Amin is known as the “father of the smart grid,” the secure overlay of sensors, communications, and automation devices that can detect pending disruptions (whether intentional or natural phenomena), stop them, and then heal themselves automatically. Smart Grids are now global undertakings that he has developed and led since the 1990s.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Amin was about a mile from the Pentagon giving a briefing to the White House and other agencies on detecting and preventing catastrophic failures of our nation’s critical infrastructures. In the wake of that calamity, he directed all security Research and Development for all North American utilities, and was promoted to direct all grids operations and planning, infrastructure security, energy markets, risk and policy assessment at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in Palo Alto.

According to Amin, TLI has more than 1,200 alumni of its Master of Science degree programs in every sector of technology, industry and government, including 140 alumni of the Institute’s Master of Science Security Technologies (MSST) program working in Minnesota alone. Others have gone to cyber security careers in New York, D.C., Houston and elsewhere.

“Our alumni are making pivotal contributions in many areas including critical infrastructure protection and cyber security. One can only accomplish this type of transdisciplinary deep expertise combined with wide-angle talent and leadership development within the context of an interdisciplinary institute that has a 30-year proven track record of creating and delivering industry-responsive programs, in judicious areas that really matter,” Amin said.

In addition, the Department of Computer Science and Engineering offers a masters of software engineering (MSSE) degree. The curriculum delivers a blend of software engineering theory and practice. Many courses focus on computer security, quality, assurance, and safety-critical systems.

Administering the MSSE program through the University’s Software Engineering Center is Mike Whalen, who is program director. The center works to address issues that impact all sectors of society through research, education, and outreach.

“Software is critical to our infrastructure,” Whalen said. “The world relies on it—it has to be right.”

The following stories about four College of Science and Engineering alumni highlight their role in keeping us safe from cyber attacks.

Milinda Rambel Stone: Growing security needs
Dan McKeown and Lawrence Wells: Building a cyber security unit
Phelix Oluoch: Keeping ahead of attackers