Cyber security students receive $1.6 million grant
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Al Katerinsky’s service in the army has ended but he still protects his country.
His battles take place in the cyber world.
Katerinsky received a Scholarship for Service (SFS) award through UB’s Center of Excellence in Information Systems Assurance Research and Education (CEISARE) in 2008 – the first time UB received the prestigious award. To him, it was a miracle.
“I had wanted to go back to school for 27 years,” said Katerinsky, now a security research analyst at the Federal Trade Commission. “When I got an invitation to join the program, I wrote back: ‘Don’t put anything you love between me and the door. I’ll be right there.’”
The opportunity changed his life.
The scholarship, which has now been awarded for a second time by the National Science Foundation to UB, gives graduate students a full ride while they learn how to protect the United States from cyber attacks. The five-year, $1.6 million grant came into effect this August and will go to the education of 16 students.
Each student receives a $25,000 stipend so they don’t have to balance work with school. The students are each also given $12,000 tuition and $3,000 for books, travel and health insurance. In return, students must work in a federal government agency for two years after graduation.
However, for Katerinsky, the best part was still being able to protect his country and fellow citizens.
According to Dr. Shambhu Upadhyaya, the program’s director: “One day, outside forces may attack our critical infrastructure in cyber terrorism. Experts are saying now that the next 9/11 may not be a physical blow. It could be the bringing down of critical infrastructure that could create havoc.”
Critical infrastructure, such as banks, the stock market, electrical power grids and telephone systems could all be at risk, according to Upadhyaya.
Upadhyaya said the vitality of these systems is the reason the SFS program was created. The need for individuals with cyber-security training has increased dramatically since 2000.
In 2008, after applying three times for the competitive grant, UB was awarded $860,000 to support 10 students. The graduates went on to work for the Federal Trade Commission, National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Security Exchange Commission and the Office of Inspector General.
To prepare students for careers in these agencies, the scholarship program offers a choice of two tracks: technical and managerial. Although one is defined by the Computer Science and Engineering department and the other by the department of Management Science and Systems, both have significant security content. Each track requires 14 to 15 credit hours of lectures and lab sessions, as well as a summer internship.
“That’s what you talk about in interviews and how you gauge what you want to do,” said Daniel Megalo, a former student on the technical track. “In the classes they teach, like cryptography and network security. The labs and homework are geared toward hands-on support you’ll do in your career.”
Katerinsky, who participated in the managerial track, said he learned more in his courses than he ever did in 25 years of working in the business world.
“The courses explained things that I knew the names of and kind of how they worked, but I didn’t really understand until I was shown them in a broad, systematic way of how and why that business world works the way it does,” he said.
By graduation, each student will have the tools and skills to land almost any cyber security job, according to Upadhyaya. But, surprising to Upadhyaya, recruiting participants is not always easy.
Upadhyaya speculates this is due in part to the two-year requirement of working for the government after graduation. Students are hesitant to apply for something they are not completely sure of, he said.
“You need to find the right students with the right mentality,” Upadhyaya said. “Specifically, they need to see it as an opportunity rather than an obligation. When the two years of service are up, the student has the choice to leave for companies such as Google and Microsoft. However, about 75 percent remain in their departments.”
Megalo, who has been an IT specialist in the Office of Inspector General since fall 2011, said: “I’m definitely staying in the federal government. It’s an amazing opportunity. If you’re someone who is serious about cyber security and information assurance and wants to help the government, there is no better opportunity.”