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Who needs Halloween, when cybersecurity threats terrify?

Symposium sees UND, industry pros commit to cybersecurity research, training and action

Brian Tande, dean of UND’s College of Engineering & Mines, opens the third annual Cyber Awareness and Research Symposium in the Memorial Union. Photo by Joe Banish/UND Today.

Students, academics and industry professionals gathered in the Memorial Union on Monday for a glimpse into the ever-changing field that is cybersecurity, at UND’s third annual Cyber Awareness and Research Symposium. 

The symposium hosted about 200 participants from nine different countries, with the goal of raising awareness of the importance of keeping abreast of developments in the field and providing a platform for networking among industry professionals. 

Brian Tande, dean of UND’s College of Engineering & Mines, opened the symposium by emphasizing the University’s commitment to cybersecurity research and development. 

“The importance of this event grows every year,” he said. “Last year this event was on Halloween, and I made the comment that that is an important day to have a cybersecurity symposium because the threats we face are certainly as frightening as any costume or scary movie. As everybody in this room knows, we are essentially already at war against foreign governments, criminal organizations and others in the cyber world. The threats that we face have the potential to affect our daily lives, so that makes events like this incredibly important.” 

Tande added that UND has welcomed “several new faculty members” this year at its Center for Cyber Security Research, with the goal of adding additional positions by next fall. 

Prakash Ranganathan, UND’s director for cybersecurity research, said the field of cybersecurity requires collaboration across many academic disciplines. 

“Cybersecurity is very broad,” he said. “It has all the elements — not only technical aspects but also human factors. It is pervasive in every discipline. In order to have a good cybersecurity program and research, you need to be well-rounded to ensure participants have a wealth of knowledge and provide solutions that are able to track the problems we see.” 

Ranganathan also said he has noticed an uptick in students interested in entering the field, evidenced by an increase in enrollment in UND’s bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity. 

Jacob Benjamin, director of international services at Dragos Inc. — an industrial cybersecurity firm — stressed the importance of developing a robust defense infrastructure. 

“I don’t believe there is necessarily a secure architecture — it’s difficult, if not impossible, to design something that’s totally secure,” he said. “But we can design something that’s defensible, that can be defended by human defenders. You need a network that works for you.” 

Benjamin also urged students interested in entering the field of cybersecurity to collaborate with academics and professionals across disciplines. 

“Make friends with engineers — they’re merging fields,” he said. “See what kinds of cross-disciplinary problems you can solve.” 

Dale Meredith, a cybersecurity professional who has advised numerous companies on the subject and offers courses on his website “Dale Dumbs IT Down,” said the dynamic nature of cybersecurity requires constant vigilance toward emerging threats. 

“When we get some new device that comes out, I look at it from both perspectives,” he said. “I’m always looking at what could be done with a particular device. Cybersecurity is very similar to what we refer to as a box of chocolates — meaning sometimes we don’t know what we’re getting into.” 

Cybersecurity professional Dale Meredith outlines the myriad methods hackers employ to compromise personal data at the Cyber Awareness and Research Symposium. Photo by Joe Banish/UND Today.

He also cautioned attendees against “password recycling,” or using a generic password for multiple accounts, stating that the practice creates an easy target for hackers. 

“It used to be that people would have like four passwords,” Meredith said. “One for financial stuff, another one for shopping and then you might have one for social media accounts. From an attacker’s perspective, they look at that and go ‘let’s see, if Dale’s password for Facebook is ‘Batman,’ I’m going to try that on other accounts and see if I can’t get in.’ Account takeovers are extremely volatile right now — we’re seeing a 300-plus percent increase in accounts being taken over by hackers.” 

In addition to cautioning against password recycling, Meredith urged attendees to disable the feature allowing automatic connection to wireless networks on their devices, as the function allows would-be hackers to infiltrate users’ personal data. 

The symposium also included a panel session titled “Emerging Cyber Threats and Solutions,” featuring representatives from prominent industry players like eMed, Pluralsight, Kirkwall, Waterfall Security Solutions, and Northrup Grumman, along with academic experts from UND. Moderated by Ranganathan, Hassan Reza, professor of software engineering at UND and Ronald Marsh, professor and associate director of UND’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the panel explored various critical aspects of contemporary cybersecurity challenges.

Key topics deliberated included the evolving landscape of cyber threats, the importance of robust risk management, and the necessity for compliance with ever-changing security standards. The experts also shed light on effective mitigation strategies, emphasizing the significance of proactive approaches in dealing with potential cybersecurity breaches.

Additionally, the panel highlighted the growing importance of cyber hygiene awareness and the need for comprehensive training in ransomware handling.

The symposium featured an Operational Technology (OT) based Cyber Informed Engineering workshop, led by Andrew Ginter, Vice President of Waterfall Security Solutions. Delving into the intersection of digital technology and industrial operations, the workshop concentrated on the intricate dynamics of cyber incidents that have tangible and potentially severe physical consequences. Through practical examples and case studies, participants gained a comprehensive understanding of how cyber-physical incidents can disrupt critical infrastructure, industrial processes, and even public safety.

A major component of the symposium was the student poster competition, where research from 38 students spanning the high school, undergraduate, graduate and doctoral level was on display.

UND graduate student Prasanth Rajagopalan presents his research at the third annual CARS symposium. Joe Banish/UND Today.

Results from the 2023 CARS student poster competition

High School student poster awards:

  • 1st place (Tied): Sonakshi Singhal – ChatGPT: Social Engineering Attacks and its association with age groups in different countries
  • 1st place (Tied): Ethan Thomas – Using ChatGPT for Information Technology
  • 2nd place (Tied): Micah Fredrick Kauffman – How AI is being utilized in Cyber Attacks
  • 2nd place (Tied): Lauryn Brynjulson, Olivia Whitney – Talking Ethics with ChatGPT

Undergraduate student poster awards: 

  • 1st place: Tashfiq Hassan – Enhancing Python Teaching with ChatGPT
  • 2nd place: Gavin Mewes – Strategies for Ensuring Algorithmic Fairness and Mitigating Bias in machine learning models, Particularly in High-Stakes Applications like the Justice System
  • 3rd place: SeyitBaha Kılıçkap   – GPT3.5 Based RPG-GAMES [SKYRIM AI]​ 

Masters’ student poster awards:

  • 1st place: Mohammad Ali – Bot Battalion: Unleashing the power of ChatGPT inCapture-The-Flag Competitions
  • 2nd place: Farishta Rahman – Empowering Resilience: Insights from ChatGPT on the Texas 2021 Power Outage
  • 3rd place (Tied): Devarshi Patel – Novel App Development with ChatGPT: An Iterative Approach to Software Development

  • 3rd place (Tied): Aryyama Kumar Jana – Investigation on mitigating ethical concerns in chatgpt’s responses: reducing bias and maintaining ethical standards 

Doctoral student poster awards:

  • 1st place: Hasin Rehana – Identifying Protein-Protein Interaction from Biomedical Text Using Generative Pre-trained Transformer.
  • 2nd place: Raja Sree Tiruvalluru – Artificial Intelligence in Concrete Engineering: A ChatGPT Perspective

  • 3rd place (Tied): Imteaz Osmani – Thoughts of ChatGPT about Interaction between hypersonic vehicles and ice crystals
  • 3rd place (Tied): Sichen Jin – Integrating ChatGPT into ExaScale Grid Optimization (ExaGo) Cloud