A consortium of universities is leveraging Federal grants to produce research on the “nexus” of terrorism and cybersecurity, one top academic said at Splunk’s GovSummit on Dec. 14.

The National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center (NCITE) – based out of the University of Nebraska Omaha and funded by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – “generates foundational knowledge for the government around the human-centered threat of counterterrorism,” said Gina Ligon, director of NCITE.

“Terrorists are using cyber as the vehicle to be able to impact their targets in meaningful and easy to exploit ways,” Ligon said.

The NCITE director explained that they have seen an increase in cyber terrorism attacks occurring through adversaries taking advantage of the internet of things, defacing websites, or synchronizing cyberattacks with physical attacks.

“What our job at NCITE is to do is to put tons of data together for the Federal government to strive to tell these stories of who the humans are [behind the attack], what their motivation is, and what are the characteristics of vulnerable targets,” Ligon said.

The research program is made up of 19 different institutions and has a mission to produce actionable research by 2030 – combining a broad range of academic backgrounds, from social science to business to technology.

“The whole goal of all of this knowledge we’re trying to generate is really to be able to develop prevention strategies,” Ligon said. “It’s important for us to be able to educate about who the bad actors are that are trying to attack our critical infrastructure.”

The second part of NCITE’s mission is to build the future workforce with the “most innovative, curious, and security-minded students” so they can take their cybersecurity expertise straight to Federal agencies.

“[It’s] a very nice way to get a trained pipeline growing,” said Dana Ahrens, Chief of the Emergency Response Operations Branch at DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. “We get folks coming up to these programs, we get to introduce them to our organizations, our agencies, our mission set.”

“It plants the seed to bring them up and hopefully make them future potential employees and help bring that expertise up – especially when we’re dealing with complex issues like counterterrorism,” he said.

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