Northeastern’s graduate campus in Charlotte, North Carolina is adding nine degree programs to its curriculum this fall, according to university officials.
Northeastern University — Charlotte will offer seven new master’s degrees and the first two doctoral degrees, campus officials said in a statement. The campus, which opened in 2011, currently has 17 degree programs, including master of education, master of public administration, master of science in finance, and master of science in criminal justice.
“Northeastern University provides high-demand graduate programs aligned with the needs of industry in region and around the world,” Dr. Cheryl Richards, chief executive officer and regional dean of Northeastern University–Charlotte said in the statement. “We are committed to educating and empowering tomorrow’s leaders as they seek the ability to effect meaningful change in their careers.”
In a separate statement issued by Northeastern University’s main campus, the school said that the new degrees are all existing programs at Northeastern. Degree programs at Northeastern’s graduate campus follow a “hybrid delivery” model, which incorporates both online and classroom learning.
Article from Boston.com
WHO Joshua Tsuji, a third-year student majoring in computer science.
WHAT A position as a developer at Intuit, a Mountain View, Calif., software company that helps small businesses and individuals manage finances.
WHEN July to December 2012.
WHAT HE DID This year, the IRS announced it would promise tax refunds only within 21 days, rather than by a specific date. Knowing how many users of Intuit’s TurboTax software count on that refund to pay their bills, Tsuji built an app that estimates a more precise delivery date based on data provided in the tax return. While Tsuji waits for his patent to come through, Intuit will release the app to approximately 26 million people this tax season.
TODAY Tsuji is working on an app that tracks arrival times for Boston’s subway trains and hopes to add more trip-based features, like what the delay will be if you miss a train. Next up, he hopes, is getting experience at a startup.
What do the Pythagorean theorem and cartoon characters like Casper the Friendly Ghost and Stewie from Family Guy have in common? They were both used this spring semester to help teach local youth how to create video games, with the assistance from student volunteers studying computer science and business at Northeastern.
The initiative revolves around Bootstrap, a free curriculum that since 2005 has been used to teach students nationwide—primarily ages 12–16—to program their own video games using algebraic and geometric concepts. The mission is to build excitement and confidence around gaming and for students to apply these skills in fun projects.
Earlier this year, the Bootstrap program received accolades after several news outlets reported a first grader in Philadelphia became the youngest person to create a full version of a mobile video-game application—a feat the 7-year-old achieved using Bootstrap.
Northeastern has been a longstanding supporter of Bootstrap. This semester, Bootstrap partnered with the university, TripAdvisor, and Citizen Schools to bring the curriculum to three Massachusetts schools: the Edwards Middle School in Charlestown, the Dever-McCormack Middle School in Dorchester, and the Orchard Gardens K-8 School in Roxbury.
On May 13, the university hosted an expo in the Curry Student Center for 12 of the middle-school students to showcase their projects, who wore black t-shirts with the words, “I program my own video games.”
This semester marked the fourth time Tyler Rosini, a computer science and finance combined major, has volunteered to teach through the program. “I like the idea of giving back to kids,” said Rosini, who recalled being inspired to participate when Bootstrap creator Emmanuel Schanzer pitched the opportunity during one of Rosini’s first-year classes.
The premise of the computer games on display is simple: The user controls a cartoon character on the screen, and the character racks up points by capturing a target that continually moves across the screen. At the same time, the character must avoid coming into contact with a separate moving target, a villain of sorts.
Rosini and fourth-year student Joe O’Neil, a computer science and accounting combined major, have volunteered once a week this semester in the Edwards School. The lessons started with teaching simple concepts about writing code and programming. Over a 10-week span, Rosini and O’Neil added new elements to their lessons, from creating the characters on screen to allowing them to move in different directions.
After his first semester volunteering, O’Neil embraced reversing his role in the classroom from student to teacher. “I was impressed with how quickly some of the kids picked up these challenging concepts,” he said.
William Robertson got his first taste of how vulnerable the world’s cyberinfrastructure is during the 1990s, when he hacked into computer networks. He did it for the adrenaline rush, says the assistant professor, and out of sheer curiosity.
“I was interested in system penetration and doing remote reconnaissance just to see what I could find,” Robertson recalls. “I discovered that anyone with the requisite knowledge could uncover all kinds of fascinating data.”
For several years, he honed his hacking acumen, breaking into secure networks and poring over private information for fun, without any intention of doing harm. But the allure of aimless hacking eventually wore off, and he realized he could put his vast knowledge of Internet networks to use, finding ways to block people from stealing information and doing real harm.
Today, Robertson has dual appointments in the College of Engineering and the College of Computer and Information Science at Northeastern. A leading expert in detecting and preventing Web-based attacks, he is part of a contingent of interdisciplinary faculty uniquely qualified to train the next generation of cyberscientists to outfox even the most ruthless hackers and to build truly secure software.
A 21st Century Challenge
The urgency behind putting together these teams of cybersecurity specialists is very real. Consumer cybercrime costs the global economy $110 billion a year, according to one of the largest studies on the growing threat of hackers, online scams, “phishing” attacks, and exploitative malware. The report, issued by the security software company Symantec, also found that cybercrime affects more than 1.5 million people each day.
This threat extends well beyond the personal computer. In a speech last fall in New York, former Defense Secretary Leon S. Panetta warned of the possibility of a “cyber-Pearl Harbor,” citing the vulnerability of the nation’s water supplies, power grids, and passenger trains.
Stephen Flynn, professor and founding co-director of the university’s George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security, echoes Panetta’s sentiment. He testified on the point at a congressional hearing on cybersecurity last spring. “Many of the software programs that support our critical infrastructure are wide open for exploitation,” he explains. “We don’t just risk a disruption of service or identity theft, but also mass sabotage and mass loss of life.”
Stepping Up the Response
In 2008, the U.S. government began to heed these warnings, establishing the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative. In 2010, the Obama administration stepped up the response with an expanded National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security followed suit not long after with the formation of a CyberSkills Task Force aimed at building a world-class cybersecurity team to combat the looming crisis.
Much work lies ahead. Some 700,000 new information security professionals will be needed by 2015, according to a 2011 study sponsored by the International Information Systems Security Certification Consortium.
Northeastern is helping to chip away at that ambitious workforce goal by producing top cyberscientists through its master of science in information assurance program, established in 2007. The interdisciplinary curriculum blends the latest theory on information technology, law, policy, and human behavior with Northeastern’s signature experiential-learning opportunities.
Designated by the National Security Agency as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Research and Education, Northeastern recently earned a five-year, $4.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to train 32 additional graduate students through the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program. The grant covers students’ tuition, fees, and living expenses for two years and includes a generous
annual stipend for academic and professional pursuits. In return, students agree to complete an information assurance co-op or internship and work for a national laboratory or federal agency for two years after graduation.
The Deep End
One of the reasons the university is recognized as a hub of information assurance education is that students learn to think on their feet. They’re immediately thrust into real-world situations—both in co-op and in the classroom—through Northeastern’s rare blend of experiential learning and academics.
The curriculum is centered around a series of complex laboratory and independent assignments, such as securing a closed-circuit server that has received 200,000 failed login attempts from a cast of fictional cybercriminals or assuming the mindset of a hacker and extracting cryptographic information from hardware. Using industry tools and commercial-grade networking equipment, students get inside the heads of these fictional hackers and come up with viable solutions.
Samuel Jenkins, MS’12, graduated in May with the second Scholarship for Service class. Jenkins, who has an undergraduate degree in German studies from Swarthmore College, returned to his childhood love of tinkering with computers and decided to pursue graduate work in cybersecurity. He now works as a security analyst with the Executive Office of the President of the United States, providing information technology services to the White House.
Jenkins liked Northeastern’s blend of technical and nontechnical courses. “When I began the program, I felt as if I had been thrown into the deep end,” he recalls. “And I wanted to be in the deep end. My professors were very responsive to my technical questions and extremely knowledgeable real-world practitioners. I applied to the program because its multidisciplinary approach to computer security fit well with my diverse interests.”
Thinking Like a Thief
Northeastern’s experiential approach also affords students a unique opportunity to understand the many scenarios cybersecurity specialists encounter every day.
One of the biggest challenges experts face in trying to shut down cybercrime is that cybercriminals continually morph their malware, making it virtually impossible to catch and prosecute them. Robertson likens the system to a global Internet mafia, with individuals sitting behind backlit screens in nondescript locations, coding their way into people’s sensitive data around the clock.
The key, says Robertson and others, is to think like the cyberthieves. He and his team spend their days studying malicious software, discovering how it is constructed, how it works, and how it behaves. With that background, they are able to cripple the criminals’ ability to operate.
This objective takes more than trained cyberdetectives. It requires cutting-edge technology that can detect, analyze, and prevent virtual attacks. For instance, Robertson uses machine-learning techniques to develop security programs that “know” what normal user behavior looks like. Then, when a threat presents itself by demonstrating anomalous behavior, the program can automatically intervene to end the threat.
He is also working with his colleague Engin Kirda, co-director of Northeastern’s Systems Security Lab, to make mobile phones more secure. Backed by a $2 million grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the duo is developing tools to identify and defend against malicious activity in Android applications.
DARPA, says Kirda, also the director of Northeastern’s Information Assurance Institute and the Sy and Laurie Sternberg Interdisciplinary Associate Professor of Computer Science, is particularly interested in blocking acts of cyberespionage. “If a mobile phone is compromised,” he points out, “then someone could potentially steal data by activating its camera or microphone.”
Agnes Chan, principal investigator on the NSF education grant, whose research expertise lies in cryptography and communication security, is developing a tool to hide information-retrieval patterns from cloud computing providers, some of which cannot be trusted. The real-world applications are many, ranging from protecting financial information to patient confidentiality.
Jenny Mankin, a doctoral candidate in computer engineering who conducts research in Northeastern’s Computer Architecture Research Laboratory, spent the last four years developing the infrastructure for analyzing and detecting malware, such as computer viruses, worms, and “Trojan horses,” which appear to perform desirable functions but instead facilitate unauthorized access to steal information or harm computers. Mankin hopes that computer security software companies will eventually incorporate her tool into products that ward off malware attacks.
But even with the introduction of sophisticated technology, the human factor remains essential. “We can have all the latest technology in the world,” Chan reminds us, “but if we don’t have the people to manage it, then [our networks] will be vulnerable.”
With the backing of the Scholarship for Service grant, Northeastern’s role in providing that human capital will continue to grow. In January, Robertson and David Kaeli, co-principal investigators on the NSF grant, attended the Scholarship for Service’s annual job fair in Washington, D.C. Students had a chance to meet with representatives of some 500 federal agencies.
“Congress talks about the Scholarship for Service program whenever it wants to fund a new cybersecurity initiative,” says Kaeli, a virtualization technology expert and professor and associate dean of electrical and computer engineering. “It receives the most credit for training the next generation of cyberexperts.”
Northeastern is also designated by the NSA as a National Center for Academic Excellence in Cyber Operations, an honor shared by only four universities nationwide. The designation, another part of President Obama’s cybersecurity education initiative, allows undergraduate computer science students to specialize in cyberoperations by taking high-level courses in software vulnerability, network security, and the fundamentals of information assurance.
“Honors like this indicate that our research is vibrant, our faculty is well-funded, and we are working on problems that are relevant to the intelligence and security community,” says Chan.
And they’re problems that aren’t going away anytime soon. As Mankin puts it, “Security researchers and malware writers are playing a game of cat and mouse. I think it’s possible that the race will never end.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. government declared that the emerging H7N9 bird flu “poses a significant potential for a public health emergency.” The virus, a relative of other bird flus we’ve seen previously like H1N1 and H5N1, originated in China and results in a severe respiratory infection and, in some cases, death. While the virus is not, at this time, transmissible between humans, researchers believe that just a few genetic mutations could change that. Network scientist Alessandro Vespignani, the Sternberg Family Distinguished University Professor of physics, computer science, and health sciences, is mapping the disease’s progression in his lab. We asked him to discuss the pandemic potential of the virus and explain how this strain differs from those in the past.
The H7N9 is a novel reassortant influenza A virus, which very likely originated in birds. However, the transmission of H7 viruses to mammals has seldom been reported, and human infections with N9 subtype viruses had not been documented anywhere in the world before this outbreak. In addition, most of the observed infections are associated with severe symptoms and a high mortality rate. As of today there have been 130 human cases suggesting that the virus appears to be more infectious to people than most of the other avian influenza viruses we know. For instance, in China the feared H5N1 is at the origin of less than 50 cases in one decade. Indeed, it appears that the H7N9 virus shows several mutations that make it more adapted to mammals, and thus humans.
So far the virus does not have sustained human-to-human transmission. This means that although there have been small family clusters likely triggered by the prolonged exposure to the infectious individual, the virus cannot spread easily in the general population. At the moment it is an infection that people catch from animals, however the circulation among humans may favor further genetic adaptation increasing the transmission potential of the virus. Generally these changes are associated with mild and asymptomatic cases that signal an increased adaptation of the virus to the human host. For this reason, the identification of one asymptomatic case and a few relatively mild cases have raised concerns about the virus. There is an appreciable risk that a pandemic could start if this virus were to change to spread easily between people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as all national and international agencies, are seriously preparing for that possibility.
At the moment, the lack of human-to-human transmission makes the spreading pattern of the current outbreak not compatible with any widespread epidemic scenario. It is however possible that isolated cases will be observed in other countries because of travelers from China. If the virus acquires the capability of sustained transmission, the situation would be completely different. In that case it is very likely that the epidemic could escalate to pandemic dimensions in two to three months, as we observed for the H1N1 in 2009. Detailed projections, however, would need specific information on the adapted virus, and the initial pattern of spreading. For this reason it is extremely important to increase and enhance surveillance capabilities not just in China but worldwide. We are in the position to use new digital technologies to monitor the progression of widespread epidemics by tapping into social networks, mobile devices, and web platforms. The next pandemic will be the first one that we will fight not just on the medical frontline but also by using “information intelligence,” which will allow us to predict the moves of the biological enemy.
One of the world’s foremost network scientists, Barabási is leading an interdisciplinary team of researchers on a quest to construct the human “diseasome”—the sum of all human diseases and the ways they relate to one another.
This map of human diseases would revolutionize medicine on all levels, says Barabási, enabling researchers to understand the molecular and genetic linkages between one disease, like asthma, and other respiratory diseases.
The team has already developed a map of 70 of the most common diseases based on their protein and metabolite interactions. As the pool of knowledge about those molecular interactions expands, so will the map.
Once the diseasome is fully mapped, Barabási says, physicians could use individual genetic mutations as a predictor of future health. And pharmaceutical researchers would have a powerful tool to design drugs with greater precision and effectiveness.
Alessandro Vespignani, Sternberg Family Distinguished University Professor of Physics, Computer Science, and Health Sciences is a pioneer in the emerging field of digital epidemiology, which promises to revolutionize the way we approach public health issues involving the spread of infectious diseases.
He notes that it took nearly a decade for the Black Plague to spread through Europe, while, thanks to modern transportation, the 2009 H1N1 pandemic swept across the globe in just four months.
Vespignani has developed computational modeling tools that would transform preemptive public-health efforts the next time a contagion decides to hitch a lightning–fast ride around the world.
Using data such as airline traffic and cell phone usage, Vespignani creates maps of human mobility across the planet. Combining that data and the specific dynamics of a disease, his computational models can predict epidemic outbreaks with great precision. In fact, Vespignani and his team confirmed that their model accurately predicted—with a lead time of several months—the peak of the 2009 H1N1 outbreak in 42 countries in the Northern Hemisphere.
Amy Sliva is a pioneer in the emerging field of security informatics, taking a Big Data approach to mining the labyrinth of terrorism’s contextual markers to predict when and where violence might erupt.
It’s a method suited to the times, says Sliva, because the information stream related to violence and terrorism has never been more abundant. From smartphone activity to broadcast media reports, we have at our fingertips the perfect storm of indicators when large-scale violence is brewing. The question is, how do we sort and make sense of all the clues we have at our disposal?
By using many of the same principles that experts in bioinformatics use to map and predict disease, Sliva and her colleagues are building artificial intelligence models to analyze and forecast potential threats. Such predictions could help officials make smarter security policy, prevent bloodshed, and save lives.
Among researchers focused on cleaning up the world’s black market of Internet insecurity, Robertson is a leader—in large part because he has learned to think like a cybercriminal.
This highly sophisticated set of hackers, members of a global Internet mafia, sit quietly behind backlit screens, coding their way into our sensitive data. From credit card numbers to computing power, nothing is off limits. So Robertson spends his days studying their malicious software: how it is constructed, how it works, and how it behaves. With that knowledge, he can create more robust security tools and safer systems.
For instance, Robertson uses machine-learning techniques to develop security programs that recognize the normal behavior of users and other programs. Then, when a threat presents itself and demonstrates anomalous behavior, the security program can automatically intervene to stop it. Robertson’s goal is not to catch the criminals, but rather to fatally cripple their ability to operate.
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