FBI takes cybersecurity to school

At the Front: NCSA Director Thom Dunning says the new research center will protect advanced computing resources.

Chris Brown Photography

The FBI is launching a new law enforcement cybersecurity research center to be hosted by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The bureau said it would provide $3 million to support the first two years' operation of the National Center for Digital Intrusion Response (NCDIR).
The new center represents an expansion of the FBI's existing work with the university, which also receives funds from other federal agencies to carry out cybersecurity research and development.

'This effort will benefit the scientists, engineers and other researchers who use cyber resources at NCSA and other federal centers by protecting the cyberinfrastructure they rely on,' said NCSA Director Thom Dunning in an FBI statement earlier this month. 'NCSA and the University of Illinois have been and continue to be at the forefront of developing, deploying and safeguarding advanced computing resources.'

The bureau said the state university's information technology security scholars would work with FBI cybersecurity specialists to understand what new capabilities are required to better detect and investigate cyberattacks, develop new tools, and ensure that FBI agents in the field can use them effectively.

NCSA has 22 years of experience in protecting high-performance computers from cyberattacks, the bureau said. The work has included developing software for data analysis, visualization, collaboration and communication, the FBI said.

The bureau's expansion of its work with the university team reflects changes in the patterns of crime and national security threats, the FBI said.

'While cyberattacks were once considered a specialized niche in law enforcement, today there are digital aspects to many crimes and national-security threats. All investigators must be able to pursue criminals operating in cyberspace,' the FBI said. 'NCDIR will provide training, including intensive summer workshops, so all FBI agents have the opportunity to use these new tools in the field.'

According to a bureau description of NCSA's work, the university's IT security team leads the National Center for Advanced Secure Systems Research and collaborates with other scholars via the Information Trust Institute.

'NCSA brings to the table an extraordinary level of experience in navigating the complex landscape of the Internet, which NCDIR will leverage to advance the capabilities of the FBI,' said John Stafford, acting special agent in charge at the FBI's Springfield, Ill., division.

'This will serve to bring to justice not only sophisticated criminal organizations, but also to better defend cyberspace against terrorist attacks and hostile intelligence organizations,' Stafford said.

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