Feature Stories 2024: Prepared to protect your business

Cybersecurity grant bestowed to UMassD
UMassD faculty members Liudong Xing, PhD, and Gokhan Kul, PhD receive CyberCorps Scholarship for Service certification from government officials.
Feature Stories 2024: Prepared to protect your business
Prepared to protect your business

A $3.5 million National Science Foundation grant bolsters cybersecurity program, readying students to become leaders in this cutting-edge field.

Cybersecurity threats are on the rise, leaving no company safe from data breaches and malicious software, ransomware, or phishing attacks. According to IBM’s 2023 Cost of Data Breach Report, the global average cost of a data breach was $4.45 million, including lost revenue caused by downtime and investigating and responding to the attack. Accompanied by the blow to a company’s brand and reputation, preventing these attacks is a top priority.

Responding to the critical need to create systems to combat these damaging attacks requires a workforce skilled in analyzing and designing secure information systems. “You need to be good at building something to know how to break it and get into the details,” said Lance Fiondella, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the UMass Dartmouth Cybersecurity Center. “Our students learn the fundamentals of design in their computer science and computer engineering courses that make them ready to work in the field of security at any level."

Bolstered by a $3.5 million National Science Foundation grant and a designation as a National Security Agency Department of Homeland Security Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Research, UMass Dartmouth’s cybersecurity program aims to address the national demand for a diverse cybersecurity workforce and prepare master’s-level professionals for government positions. The grant provides scholarship funding for students and opportunities internships and employment at premier agencies. The designation as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Research puts UMass Dartmouth students in front of the nation’s top recruiters at an
annual job fair in Washington, D.C., and the chance to connect with people working in cybersecurity research and engineering at federal agencies.

Cybersecurity is a rich and diverse subject, with business, psychology, and economics intersecting with computer engineering and computer science as students acquire skills for developing cyber defense and secure software and solving problems resulting from cyber attacks of systems and data. Hands-on research opportunities with faculty and challenging class projects expose students to advanced applications of their skills and introduce contemporary issues such as the internet of things and the smart and connected world in which we live today.

“My favorite aspect of studying cybersecurity at UMass Dartmouth is that my professors encourage students to go beyond what the course offers,” said Ayyappan Rajesh ’24, whose interest is in wireless security and automotive security. “I worked on a project that led to a discovery of a replay attack in certain vehicles that let an attacker remotely lock, unlock and start vehicles. Outside of class, I have worked on projects involving connected cars, Internet of Things, and wireless security."

With national recognition and the support of major grant funding, UMass Dartmouth students are prepared to meet the demand of cybersecurity positions, equipped with the fundamentals to be sharp computer engineers and computer scientists.