University of Illinois and NSA partner for cyber security research

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University of Illinois recognised as a National Security Agency (NSA) featured school after partnering in cyber security research for over 19 years.

By U2B Staff 

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University of Illinois received recognition as a National Security Agency (NSA) featured school, highlighting their relationship of researching the science of security and working on cyber security problems for over 19 years.

The university is the fifth to be named an NSA Featured School, a series that highlights schools designated as centres of academic excellence that have a depth and breadth of engagement with the agency.

The partnership between the university and NSA was developed through the establishment of the Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD), a programme jointly sponsored by NSA and the Department of Homeland Security.

This programme was initially established with the aim of reducing vulnerability in the national information infrastructure by promoting higher education and research in cyber defense, as well as producing professionals with cyber security expertise.


The NSA collaborated with the university’s faculty and students in support of broad cyber security and assurance goals. The collaboration also included research in programming languages and system verification in support of systems analysis.

“As one of the initial schools to be designated to host an NSA Science of Security (SoS) Lablet, Illinois has been instrumental in stimulating basic research to create scientific underpinnings for security and advocating for scientific rigor in security research,” said NSA Deputy Director George Barnes.

Barnes added, “The Illinois SoS Lablet builds on a long history in developing science upon which systems might be engineered.”

University of Illinois Academic Liaison, Brad Martin said that the collaboration with the NSA has led to valued capability developments that are still in use within NSA and partner federal agencies today.

A professor at the university, David Nicol who has been involved in the lablet since 2011 appreciates the fact that NSA has been investing in research since the early stages of cyber security.

Commenting on this long-term partnership, Nicol said, “I was pleased that the problem of viewing the scientific basis for security was being taken seriously. It’s commendable that NSA recognised this issue and invested resources in studying it.”


Currently, 115 Illinois graduates with degrees at all levels in areas ranging from mathematics to Russian work at the NSA. NSA’s Senior Strategist for Academic Engagement, Kathy Hutson said, “We have many talented employees at NSA who have come from Illinois.”

She added that the agency is pleased with the partnership forged with the university and what it has contributed to the NSA.

The NSA has also awarded grants valued at more than $600,000 to the university over the last five years. In addition, the agency has hosted a number of summer interns from the university.

At present, two students from the university are enrolled in the Stokes Educational Scholarship Programme.

This programme primarily focuses on recruiting students from minority groups who have demonstrated skills critical to agency. Students enrolled in this programme receive $30,000 a year, that goes toward their college education.

Programme participants also commit to summer internships and gain six years of employment with the agency upon graduation.