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Centers of ... Adequacy, Revisited

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Almost two years ago I wrote in this blog about how CERIAS (and Purdue) was not going to resubmit for the NSA/DHS Centers of Academic Excellence program.

Some of you may notice that Purdue is listed among this year's (2010) group of educational institutions receiving designation as one of the CAEs in that program. Specifically, we have received designation as a CAE-R (Center of Academic Excellence in Research).

"What changed?" you may ask, and "Why did you submit?"

The simple answers are "Not that much," and "Because it was the least-effort solution to a problem." A little more elaborate answers follow. (It would help if you read the previous post on this topic to put what follows in context.)

Basically, the first three reasons I listed in the previous post still hold:

  1. The CAE program is still not a good indicator of real excellence. The program now has 125 designated institutions, ranging from top research universities in IA (e.g., Purdue, CMU, Georgia Tech) to 2-year community colleges. To call all of those programs "excellent" and to suggest they are equivalent in a meaningful way is unfair to students who wish to enter the field, and unfair to the people who work at all of those institutions. I have no objection to labeling the evaluation as a high-level evaluation of competence, but "excellence" is still not appropriate.   
  2. The CNSS standards are still used for the CAE and are not really appropriate for the field as it currently stands. Furthermore, it the IACE program used to certify CNSS compliance explicitly notes "The certification process does not address the quality of the presentation of the material within the courseware; it simply ensures that all the elements of a specific standard are included.." How the heck can a program be certified as "excellent" when the quality is not addressed? By that measure, a glass of water is insufficient, but drowning someone under 30ft of water is "excellent."
  3. There still are no dedicated resources for CAE schools. There are several grant programs and scholarships via NSF, DHS and DOD for which CAE programs are eligible, but most of those don't actually require CAE status, nor does CAE status provide special consideration.

What has changed is the level of effort to apply or renew at least the CAE-R stamp. The designation is now good for 5 academic years, and that is progress. Also, the requirements for the CAE-R designation were easily satisfied by a few people in a matter of several hours mining existing literature and research reports. Both of those were huge pluses for us in submitting the application and reducing the overhead to a more acceptable level given the return on onvestment.

The real value in this, and the reason we entered into the process, is that a few funding opportunities have indicated that applicants' institutions must be certified as a CAE member or else the applicant must document a long list of items to show "equivalence." As our faculty and staff compete for some of these grants, the cost-benefit tradeoff suggested that a small group to go through the process once, for the CAE-R. Of course, this raises the question of why the funding agencies suggest that XX Community College is automatically qualified to submit a grant, while a major university that is not CAE certified (MIT is an example) has to prove that it is qualified!

So, for us, it came down to a matter of deciding whether to stay out of the program as a matter of principle, or submit an application to make life a little simpler for all of our faculty and staff when submitting proposals. In the end, several of our faculty & staff decided to do it over an afternoon because they wanted to make their own proposals simpler to produce. And, our attempt to galvanize some movement away from the CAE program produced huge waves of ...apathy... by other schools; they appear to have no qualms about standing in line for government cheese. Thus, with somewhat mixed feelings by some of us, we got our own block of curd, with an expiration date of 2015.

Let me make very clear -- we are very supportive of any faculty willing to put in the time to develop a program, and working to educate students to enter this field. We are also very glad that there are people in government who are committed to supporting that academic effort. We are in no way trying to denigrate any institution or individual involved in the CAE program. But the concept of giving a gold star to make everyone feel good about doing what should be the minimum isn't how we should be teaching, or about how we should be promoting good cybersecurity education.

(And I should also add that not every faculty member here holds the opinions expressed above.)

Own Your Own Space

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I have been friends with Linda McCarthy for many years. As a security strategist she has occupied a number of roles -- running research groups, managing corporate security, writing professional books, serving as a senior consultant, conducting professional training....and more. That she isn't widely known is more a function of her not seeking it by having a blog or gaining publicity by publishing derivative hacks to software than it is anything else; There are many in the field who are highly competent and who practice out of the spotlight most of the time.

One of Linda's passions over the last few years has been in reaching out to kids -- especially teens -- to make them aware of how to be safe when online. Her most recent effort is an update to her book for the youngest computer users. The book is now published under the Creative Commons license. The terms allow free use of the book for personal use. That's a great deal for a valuable resource!

I'm enclosing the recent press release on the book to provide all the information on how to get the book (or selected chapters).

If you're an experienced computer user, this will all seem fairly basic. But that's the point -- the basics require special care to present to new users, and in terms they understand. (And yes, this is targeted mostly to residents of the U.S.A. and maybe Canada, but the material should be useful for everyone, including parents.)

Industry-Leading Internet Security Book for Kids, Teens, Adults Available Now as Free Download

Own Your Space® teams with Teens, Experts, Corporate Sponsors for Kids' Online Safety

SAN FRANCISCO, June 17 -- As unstructured summertime looms, kids and teens across the nation are likely to be spending more time on the Internet and texting.

Now, a free download is available to help them keep themselves safer both online and while using a cell phone.

Own Your Space®, the industry-leading Internet security book for youth, parents, and adults, was first written by Linda McCarthy, a 20-year network and Internet-security expert.

This all-new free edition -- by McCarthy, security pros, and dedicated teenagers -- teaches youths and even their parents how to keep themselves "and their stuff" safer online.

A collaboration between network-security experts, teenagers, and artists, the flexible licensing of Creative Commons, and industry-leading corporate sponsors, together have made it possible for everyone on the Internet to access Own Your Space for free via myspace.com/ownyourspace, facebook.com/ownyourspace.net, and www.ownyourspace.net.

"With the rise of high-technology communications within the teen population, this is the obvious solution to an increasingly ubiquitous problem: how to deliver solid, easy-to-understand Internet security information into their hands? By putting it on the Internet and their hard drives, for free," said Linda McCarthy, former Senior Director of Internet Safety at Symantec.

Besides the contributors' own industry experience, Own Your Space also boasts the "street cred" important to the book's target audience; this new edition has been overseen by a cadre of teens who range in age from 13 to 17.

"In this age of unsafe-Internet and risky-texting practices that have led to the deaths and the jailing of minors, I'm thankful for everyone who works toward and sponsors our advocacy to keep more youth safe while online and on cell phones," McCarthy said.

Everyone interested in downloading Own Your Space® for free can visit myspace.com/ownyourspace, facebook.com/ownyourspace.net, and www.ownyourspace.net. Corporations who would like to increase the availability of the book and promote child safety online through their hardware and Web properties can contact Linda McCarthy atlmccarthy@ownyourspace.net.

McCarthy is releasing the book in June to celebrate Internet Safety Month.

“Game Change” Request for comments

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I am posting the following at the request of someone associated with this effort at NITRD:

On May 19 the White House announced a new effort to enlist public involvement in defining new areas to "change the game" for cybersecurity. Three areas for research were proposed:

  1. Moving Target – Systems that move in multiple dimensions to disadvantage the attacker and increase resiliency.
  2. Tailored Trustworthy Spaces – Security tailored to the needs of a particular transaction rather than the other way around.
  3. Cyber Economic Incentives – A landscape of incentives that reward good cybersecurity and ensure crime doesn’t pay.

For the next few weeks (until June 18), the public is being invited to make comments. As readers of this blog tend to be well-informed about security issues and research needs, I'd like to encourage you to review the details of the research areas and add your thoughts to the discussion at http://cybersecurity.nitrd.gov As this effort will impact the Federal funding of research for FY2012 and beyond, adding your thoughts is not only beneficial to the government, but also beneficial to those of us in the research community to ensure that research topics are both useful and feasible.

As I've noted before I believe that referring to this as "game change" has the potential to create the wrong attitudes towards the problems. However, at least this isn't an attempt to solve everything in 60-90 days!