Ram Dantu, Kirill Morozov, and Sanjukta Bhowmick headshots

Three UNT researchers have been awarded a prestigious National Security Agency Research Innovation Award to crack the code on cybersecurity threats against private companies and government entities. UNT is one of six institutions to have received this type of award this year.

Ram Dantu, Kirill Morozov and Sanjukta Bhowmick will use the $750,000 grant from the Center for Academic Excellence and Research (CAE-R) to solve a critical cybersecurity problem facing organizations: communication.

“When it comes to cybersecurity, there are often many failed threats and attacks before there is a successful one on an organization,” said Dantu, professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. “Unfortunately, we don’t always know when these sorts of failed attacks are occurring because that information is not shared publicly. We want to find a way to gather and share that data without compromising the private and public entities so that we can better prepare for future attacks with both private companies and federal agencies.”

The researchers plan to use encryption methods to aggregate and correlate the data and ensure the organization’s privacy. They will then create algorithms that could be used to analyzes the encrypted data to help solve current and future cybersecurity threats and attacks.

“The key for this project is secured data sharing; it’s not happening right now, and that’s where we intend to focus our efforts,” said Dantu.

The team includes students from both the undergraduate and graduate programs in cybersecurity at UNT. The B.S. and M.S. in Cybersecurity were launched in 2020 and teaches students the knowledge and skillset needed for a career in cybersecurity. The students are also given the opportunity to work alongside faculty in the UNT Center for Information and Cyber Security (CICS), which has been designated by the NSA and Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education and Research. Seven doctoral students recently graduated from the center and were hired at various federal agencies, including the U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force.

“Enterprises are very nervous about cybersecurity, because there aren’t enough people nationwide trained to work in the field,” said Dantu, who also serves as director of CICS. “Our programs are geared towards filling that gap and preparing students for valuable careers in cybersecurity. They’ll have the skill set needed for the field, because they’re learning from faculty who are experts in the field.”

The team received a similar award from the NSA in 2020 to research privacy preservation for COVID contact tracing. Dantu also partnered with computer science and engineering researcher Mark Thompson for three other grants focused on increasing the number and quality of cybersecurity professionals in the workforce. Total funding in 2020 was $1 million.