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Engineering Faculty Burleson and Holcomb Play Vital Role in $4.4 Million Federal Grant to Educate Cybersecurity Workforce

Wayne Burleson and Daniel Holcomb

Wayne Burleson and Daniel Holcomb

UMass Amherst will continue to play a lead role in protecting the nation’s computing networks and infrastructure through a $4.4 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

The grant, issued to the university’s Cybersecurity Institute through the NSF CyberCorps Scholarship for Service Program (SFS), aims to educate cybersecurity researchers and professionals and then place them in jobs throughout the federal government.

Professor Wayne Burleson and Associate Professor Daniel Holcomb of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department are co-principal investigators (co-PIs) in the project.

“This program,” says Sanjay Raman, dean of the College of Engineering, “will help create a new generation of cybersecurity professionals and researchers to address novel and challenging problems facing society. These students will help to modernize the Executive-branch workforce, advance science and technology at government laboratories, and secure our national defense.”

See UMass News Office release: UMass Receives $4.4 Million NSF Grant to Play Leadership Role in Educating Future Cybersecurity Workforce.

A team of cybersecurity researchers, led by the College of Information and Computer Science’s (CICS) Brian Levine, has received the new five-year grant from the NSF to continue the institute’s participation in the SFS program, which began in 2015. Levine’s co-investigators include Marc Liberatore (CICS), as well as Burleson and Holcomb.

As co-PIs, Burleson and Holcomb each have an essential part to play in the functioning of this collaboration among the four researchers spanning the two colleges.

Burleson has worked in secure hardware and systems for 15 years, building on his background in chip design and embedded systems and applications.

According to Burleson, “The collaboration with CICS on the SFS program and more broadly in other educational and research programs is important since it shows the connection between computer science, engineering, and information technology. The emphasis on public sector jobs is also critical, since many security issues require governmental interaction on both policy and enforcement.”

Burleson adds that the recent global trend of Ransomware is a key example, in which the government needs highly educated technologists to defend society against these widespread threats while still preserving privacy rights and the innovation economy.

Like Burleson, Holcomb performs research on the security of computing hardware. As he says, “Technological and economic trends that drive the semiconductor industry leave a wake of evolving trust models and potential vulnerabilities, but also new capabilities to leverage. This is basically what we work on.”

Holcomb also says that the hardware should provide a foundation for, and hopefully never undermine, computer security at all other levels. “Yet hardware is just one link in the chain, and security requires combined efforts across technical disciplines,” he says. “The makeup of the Cybersecurity Institute reflects that diversity.”

According to the News Office, the new NSF grant will support approximately 31 scholars at the undergraduate and graduate levels in UMass Amherst’s nationally recognized computer science and electrical and computer engineering degree programs by offering them full tuition and fees, a stipend ranging from $25,000 per year for undergrads to $34,000 per year for graduate students, and a professional development fund for one to three years of their degree program. See https://beta.nsf.gov/funding/opportunities/cybercorps-scholarship-service-sfs-0.

In addition, students complete internships at federal agencies during the summers, and upon graduation each will work fulltime at a federal agency in a cybersecurity role for one-to-three years at full pay and benefits.

Burleson’s research is in the general area of very-large-scale integration (VLSI), including circuits for low-power, long interconnects, clocking, and mixed signals. He also conducts research in reconfigurable computing, content-adaptive signal processing, embedded security, smart cards, and multimedia instructional technologies. Burleson is also affiliated with the RFID-Consortium on Security and Privacy.

According to Holcomb (see Personal Academic Website), “My research is on building secure embedded systems that are also reliable and efficient. I lead a laboratory of talented researchers that pursue these goals working broadly across computer engineering topics such as formal verification, computer-aided design, and VLSI design. Current projects are on designing secure hardware, obfuscation and reverse engineering, interdomain routing, and supply chain security.” (October 2021)