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Electrical and Computer Engineering Launches New Cyber-Physical Security Certificates

Digital board displaying cyber security attack

By Jenn Ambrose

Advances in networking, computing and control systems have enabled a broad range of new devices. From automobiles to medical devices, we are surrounded by smart networked systems with embedded sensors, processors and actuators that sense and interact with the physical world. While these advances bring us greater safety and productivity, they also bring increased vulnerability to cyber-physical attacks. The consequences of unintentional faults or malicious attacks could have a severe impact on human lives and the environment. Proactive and coordinated efforts are needed to strengthen security and reliance of the cyber-physical systems that fill our everyday lives.

To meet the needs of the Idaho National Laboratory and other local industry, a collaborative effort among the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and several other departments at Boise State, including Computer Science, Mathematics, and Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering, has made it possible to offer a new certificate series related to the security of cyber-physical systems. It is the first of its kind at Boise State and care has been taken to make the certificate series widely accessible. With tracks constructed specifically for students studying mathematics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science, most STEM majors easily can add these credentials to their undergraduate learning portfolio and graduate with the necessary “cyber awareness” to take on real-world challenges.

Four distinct certificates related to the security of cyber-physical systems will be offered by the ECE department starting in fall 2018: Software, Hardware and Firmware, Power Systems, and Industrial Processes. Each certificate requires 12 course credits: ECE 337 Introduction to Security in Cyber-Physical Systems (3 course credits) plus a minimum of 6 course credits in a single area of concentration and another 3 course credits from any area of concentration. Students who complete a certificate will gain an enhanced understanding of security issues in cyber-physical systems and will be prepared for more advanced training in their selected area of emphasis.

Sin Ming Loo, ECE professor and director of the Cyber Lab for Industrial Control Systems (CLICS), is leading a small transdisciplinary group of faculty (Liljana Babinkostova and Marion Sheepers, mathematics; Hao Chen, electrical and computer engineering; John Stubban and Hoda Mehrpouyan, computer science) to teach the first course in the certificate series this fall. The diverse expertise of this faculty team will provide students with a rich understanding of the complexity that security issues in the cyber-physical domain can present. Development of the introductory course is supported by the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES).

“Since the first course is an introduction to cyber-physical security, we’re going to take a look at all things cyber-physical,”said Loo. The curriculum includes a variety of topics, including cryptography, industrial controls, smart grids, vehicle controller area networks (CAN), hacking, threat modeling and more. “I think a student with even a little interest in this area should sign up,” Loo said, “because you just never know where this path could lead.”

Scheduled to begin in August, the ECE 337 Introduction to Security in Cyber-Physical Systems course already has 27 students enrolled.