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6/6/13 - NSA: MSU center of excellence for cyber ops

The National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command have designated Mississippi State University as a Center of Academic Excellence in cyber operations.

The certification comes after a rigorous, two-year application process by faculty in the departments of computer science and engineering (CSE) and electrical and computer engineering (ECE).

David A. Dampier, a professor of computer science and engineering at the land-grant institution, led the effort.

"MSU is among a relatively elite group of schools helping the nation meet its need for highly-skilled cyber warriors," he said.

Of note, the university also holds national CAE designations in information assurance education and in information assurance research. Mississippi State is the only institution of higher education in the state to attain the three designations.

As a CAE for cyber operations, the university may now issue certificates to graduates in the computer science master's degree program who have completed the necessary cyber operations courses, Dampier explained.

"This certification further enables us to teach skills that are used by federal agencies engaged in cyber war -- giving Mississippi State students an added edge when competing for these jobs," he said.

According to Dampier, students who include the cyber ops option in their coursework will be exposed to a diverse range of cyber security skills and in-depth study.

"Key skills will be the ability to conduct penetration tests of computer networks, as well as reverse engineering software, including viruses, Trojan horses and other forms of malware," he said.

"These skills are in demand by government agencies, as well as private contractors working on computer security-related projects," he added.

In addition to Dampier, the MSU team which worked to attain the designation were, from CSE, Cindy Bethel, Yogi Dandass, Wesley McGrew, Mahalingam Ramkumar, Ed Swan and Byron Williams; and from ECE, Sherif Abdelwahed, Bryan Jones, Pan Li, Tommy Morris and Robert Reese.

The university's cyber security capabilities include three dedicated research centers: the Center for Computer Security Research, the National Forensics Training Center and the Critical Infrastructure Protection Center.

Additionally, MSU's cyber security capacity is enhanced by many faculty holding U.S. government security clearances ranging from secret to top secret. Many students in the program also maintain active clearances.

Since 2001, MSU has been funded by both the National Science Foundation and the NSA to produce security engineers for government service under Cyber Corps scholarship programs, and has produced more than 100 students that are destined for government service.

Jim Laird | University Relations

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