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Students develop tools to expand cybersecurity knowledge

August 21, 2013

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    University of Maryland Cybersecurity Center

During the summer, Lewis & Clark students continue to work hard in their fields of study. By collaborating with faculty on research projects, students are able to engage their curiosity, expand their learning, and prepare for life after college, all while making meaningful contributions to scholarship.

Miles Crabill ’16, Evan Damon B.A. ’13, Kaleb Ganz ’14, and Claire Humbeutel ’15 are working with Professor of Computer Science Jens Mache to integrate cybersecurity knowledge into undergraduate classrooms. In the following Q&A, the team members reflect on their experience.

What are you researching? What question or problem are you trying to answer/solve with your research?

Our research concentrates on computer security education. We’re looking into ways to bring security concepts and lessons to undergraduate classrooms. This ranges from lab exercises, like defending against denial-of-service attacks, to larger frameworks for education. This summer, our focus has mainly been on these frameworks; we’re currently using Amazon Web Services (AWS), which is essentially a robust cloud-computing platform. In collaboration with The Evergreen State College, we’ve managed to put together the beginnings of a project that students and instructors may use to configure machines, networks, and security policies within a contained, testable environment.

Does your research have any potential applications in the real world, or will it influence other work in your field?

Our research has lots of applications in the real world! Computer security is as important as whatever data people put on a computer or network. To better understand security, computer science students should learn about it early and alongside other topics to which it is relevant. Otherwise, many computer science students will be unprepared to deal with security issues, which are common.

What first sparked your interest in this research area?

Our research advisor, Jens Mache, first put us on this track of research after he showed us the potential it has. We were experimenting with classroom exercises in firewall configuration (a network security tool) when we realized that the greatest hurdle was simulating a realistic environment for the exercise. Jens introduced the AWS platform as a solution to this problem.

His collaborators at Evergreen had been working on a project called EDURange, which provides an automated environment for instructors to run exercises. EDURange will essentially allow instructors to create an environment with multiple machines, in any configuration needed. This is a pretty powerful tool for security education since it can be used for any exercise with an environment as realistic as necessary.

How has working closely with faculty influenced your education?

Working closely with faculty has been great. Unlike a classroom setting, we aren’t working on a problem to which the professor has the solution. We’re actually working to find that solution, right along with a professor.

How do you hope your experiences this summer will impact your future studies or professional pursuits?

Our experience this summer will help us in both our educational and professional careers. In the classroom, we’ll know how to approach a problem more creatively. Having solved problems with no discernible solution makes that a much simpler task, especially in computer science. Professionally, the same applies, but to a much greater degree. We’ve also gained valuable experience working in a professional environment.

 

About the program

The John S. Rogers Science Research Program allows students to participate in graduate-level research with an emphasis on strengthening their communication skills by requiring them to present their findings. This summer, 40 students are pursuing topics that range from artificial intelligence and motivating behavior to holographic tweezers and zebra fish. Working closely with peers and faculty members, students undertake research questions and present their work in two public venues.

“We’re not asking you, ‘What’s the answer?’ We’re saying, ‘What’s the question?’” said Michael Broide, director of the Rogers program and chair of the physics department. “I think what sets our program apart is that regardless of what project you are on, we’re all going to come together as a group to present what we’re doing in as accessible a way as possible. In science, it’s such an important skill to be able to explain cogently what you’re doing.”

Students make their final research presentation at the Rogers summer science poster session, held in conjunction with the Science Without Limits Symposium. Scheduled for September 18, the poster session is free and open to the public.

Department of Mathematical Sciences Rogers Summer Research Projects

Zibby Pillote ’14 contributed to this story.