Computer science researchers at the University of New Orleans have received three cybersecurity education grants totaling $468,000 from the National Security Agency. The funding will support efforts to develop cybersecurity educational materials, evaluate the effectiveness of certain teaching tools and provide an intensive training experience for middle and high school teachers from around the country. Faculty members Irfan Ahmed and Vassil Roussev from UNO’s computer science faculty will lead the efforts.

“The University of New Orleans’ cybersecurity research group is nationally competitive,” said Mahdi Abdelguerfi, professor and chair of the computer science department. “These federally funded research projects provide more evidence that our researchers are addressing important issues in the ever-changing field of cybersecurity and how to teach it.”

With an award of $188,000, the UNO team will work to address different challenges associated with the instruction of cybersecurity of supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems. SCADA systems control major portions of the critical U.S. infrastructure, such as power grids, pipelines and water management. Since protecting the integrity of these systems and availability of their resources is of primary importance to national security, it is necessary for cybersecurity professionals to have a deep understanding of SCADA security. This project seeks to develop both teaching techniques and instructional materials that can improve SCADA instruction with an emphasis on low-cost approaches so that the improvements can be widely adopted.

An award of $164,000 will allow UNO researchers to closely examine the use of concept maps in cybersecurity education. Concept maps are a visual tool for organizing and representing knowledge. Concept maps are often used as effective tools in developing both a detailed conceptual knowledge and a broad perspective of a domain. However, there has been no systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of concept diagrams on improving cybersecurity educational outcomes. This project tests and measures the effectiveness of using concept maps in an established cybersecurity curriculum.

A third award of $116,000 will be used to conduct GenCyber, an intensive cybersecurity boot camp for middle and high school teachers, for the fourth year in a row on UNO’s campus. GenCyber allows teachers to learn about cybersecurity technology, design their own curricula and gain expertise needed to train future generations of cybersecurity experts. The program is free to all participants, including lodging, travel and meals.

Participating teachers are provided with a laptop that's configured and loaded with all of the security tools that are necessary for the training. Once the camp is over, the teachers will take the laptops back to their schools where they can duplicate portions of the training, perform demonstrations and otherwise integrate their new knowledge into their own classes.

UNO’s Greater New Orleans Center for Information Assurance is designated as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations and in Information Assurance Research by the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security. The University of New Orleans is the only Louisiana university holding these designations.