ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
ECE News

It's no secret: Preparing students for careers in national security

A security dynamo

Just three years since its founding, the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology is proving to be a research and education dynamo. It is quickly demonstrating its power to lead the country in providing elite engineers, scientists, and strategists involved in national security.


Led by director Charles Clancy, the Center focuses on a holistic approach — developing educational opportunities plus sustainable and flexible research programs that engage faculty members and students. The mix of education and research is critical to its success, according to Clancy. “Our sponsored research programs all involve student performers,” he says. More than 60 graduate students from different departments are involved in Hume research efforts.


While Hume Center educational opportunities have ignited interest among students, its research programs are also having a large impact across the ECE department. The Center involves 10 academic faculty members and 23 research faculty and staff members — all posted in ECE. The Center is also recruiting to fill 12 vacant positions.


Hume’s research strengths are in wireless, cybersecurity, space systems, and big data. “We promote interdisciplinary efforts in national security that are beyond the scope of one individual laboratory,” Clancy explains.


Hume researchers have been awarded $20 million in grants and contracts, $13 million this past year alone. Industry and defense community sponsorships represent roughly 25 percent each, and the intelligence community comprises the remaining amount.

The Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology serves as the umbrella organization for Virginia Tech’s student programs related to national security. In this role, the Center now includes the Intelligence Community Center of Academic Excellence (IC-CAE), directed by ECE’s Kristie Cooper, who also serves as the Hume Center’s assistant director of education. The IC-CAE, a joint venture with Howard University, is one of 20 such programs nationwide.

“We are working to develop a pipeline of leaders for the intelligence community,” Cooper says. With IC-CAE, the Hume Center offers a complete range of opportunities, including mentoring, research opportunities, scholarships, courses, special events, clubs, and study-abroad programs. Students also participate in pre-college outreach, currently aimed at local middle schools.

Pre-college outreach

Middle school students with fingerprint paint

Blacksburg Middle School students after a fingerprinting activity led by ECE students.

In addition to university offerings, the Hume Center organizes pre-college outreach programs. Hume Center students present material and supervise activities at Blacksburg Middle School Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Club meetings. They visit Blacksburg Middle School two to four times per year, and present topics such as communications or forensics. Activities might include making concealment devices out of Pringles cans, fingerprinting, or writing in invisible ink.

Presentations and activities are organized by undergraduates in the student-run Society of Analytical and Critical Thinkers. The Hume Center provides supplies for the activities.

The outreach is currently aimed at Blacksburg Middle School because of its proximity to Virginia Tech’s campus, but the Hume Center hopes to expand the program to other areas. The center also has plans to approach elementary school STEM clubs in the future.

Mentoring and scholarships

All Hume Center students meet with an advisor at least once per semester. The advisor will help them narrow down their interests and find projects and internships. “We either get them into a Hume Center project or get them an internship at an agency or industry in the intelligence community,” says Cooper. The Hume Center has also given more than $323,000 in academic scholarships since 2010, not including study-abroad scholarships.

Courses

New faculty members are joining the Hume Center, and new courses are being developed. Some of the courses will include intelligence analysis, cyber operations, and intelligence and national security. Additionally, Cooper anticipates that a new cybersecurity minor within the College of Engineering will be available to students soon.

Study abroad

Students boarding airplane

Hume Center students study abroad in China for a four-week intensive language study program.

The Hume Center offers students an opportunity to study abroad in regions of importance to the intelligence community. For the past two years, up to 10 students per year have been spending four weeks in China for an intensive language study program. Students receive four hours of language instruction every day, meet with local politicians and social groups, and have the option of doing a home stay with local families.

All of the students who study in China have an interest in the region, according to Cooper. “Some are either doing a research project on China or have been assigned to the Asian Pacific desk during their internships,” she says. Over the past four years, the Hume Center has given approximately $200,000 for study-abroad scholarships.

Cybersecurity summit

This spring, the Hume Center hosted its third annual cybersecurity summit. The summit is a one-day event with talks in the morning and a hacking competition in the afternoon. “We heard a riveting talk by Rodney Joffey, senior vice president at Neustar on the history of the Conficker worm and how industry worked with each other and government across the world to mobilize and block the spread of the worm across the Internet,” reports Charles Clancy, director of the Hume Center.

Graduate students in Virginia Tech’s IT Security Laboratory, along with Cybersecurity Club officers, organized the event to include building the servers that the competitors were to hack.

Students in lecture hall at Arlington Research Center

2013 Cyber Security Summit at the Arlington Research Center

“These events are very important in developing the next generation of cyber warriors because they provide student clubs with something constructive to put their hacking time into — other than their university’s internal IT infrastructure,” Clancy said.

Virginia Tech is pleased to host the competition each year, according to Clancy. “It’s smaller than some of the big national-level events, but this allows us to be a bit more creative. For example, some of the challenges are not just hacking into computers over a network, but include social engineering skills and other outside-the-box ways of gaining access to systems.”

This year, more than 50 people attended from Capitol College, George Mason University, Indiana Tech, James Madison University, Marshall Academy, University of Maryland, and Virginia Tech.

Cybersecurity club

The Cybersecurity Club is an active group of computer engineering and computer science students who meet weekly to discuss cybersecurity news and topics, prepare for competitions and collaborate.

The club hosted the 2012 East Coast Cyber Summer Camp for the U.S. Cyber Challenge, which sported a week of courses on topics such as mobile phone security and forensics, plus a capture-the-flag competition. The 2013 camp will be held in Roanoke.

The club also hosts an annual Cybersecurity Summit for students throughout the mid-Atlantic region at the Arlington Research Center. The summit includes speakers discussing the current state of cybersecurity and research advances in the field, plus a security competition.

The club also operates an ongoing, online wargame competition allowing club participants to hone their cyber attack and defense skills 24/7.

Campus events

Student presents research poster

A student presents his research at the IC-CAE National Security Symposium.

The Hume Center organizes a variety of events on campus, including a symposium for students to present their research and various research workshops and speakers.

Every spring, students present their research projects at the IC-CAE National Security Symposium. Hume Center graduate students have GRAs working on funded projects, and all undergraduates on scholarship are required to do an independent undergraduate research project related to national security, Cooper explains, “so there is a wide range of topics.” Topics range from wireless exploitation to North Korean dependence on China to cyber conflict.

Hume Center students are encouraged to participate in research workshops. “University Libraries really supports this program,” says Cooper. They offer a series of workshops, some of which are just for Hume Center students. Topics include information research, poster presentations, and preparing reports for a digital archive. Spring 2013 workshops from the ICCAE Workshop Series include a discussion of the intelligence cycle, briefing skills, and analytical writing.

There is also a speaker series for interested students. Recent topics have included critical thinking versus intelligence and the importance of understanding geography. One speaker from fall 2012 was Bob Wallace, former Director of the CIA’s Office of Technical Service noted as a real-life “Q”. “His talk was based on his book, Spycraft. He brought samples of a number of concealed recording devices, such as the infamous bug in the Russian embassy seal,” says Cooper. They have also had other speakers from the CIA, Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA), and others from the intelligence community. Many of these events are standing room only, according to Cooper.

The final topic this spring will discuss the actual event behind the film Zero Dark Thirty.