All posts by Arthur Takahashi

Increase in cybercrime paves way for cybersecurity investments

With the number of cyberattacks increasing and major security breaches costing big companies and the U.S. government billions of dollars a year, investing in cybersecurity is a timely decision.

“Cyber affects everyone,” said Joanne Sexton, Director for Cyber Security Educational Initiatives at GRU. “If you are connected to the Internet, this is an issue for you.”

This summer, GRU is one of 29 universities and college campuses across the country to organize and host the Cyber Sciences Summer Academy. This program will take place in two sessions starting June 21 and June 28 on the Summerville Campus. This summer academy is the result of GRU’s work with GenCyber, a program funded by the National Security Agency in partnership with the National Science Foundation.

This is the first time GRU or the Augusta area will host this kind of program,” Sexton said. “We have to teach the young minds and the public about cybersecurity. We at GRU and we as a nation have a lot of work to do.”

Recently, Chinese hackers stole personal information from about 4 million employees from virtually every U.S. government agency, officials told the media. They targeted the Office of Personnel Management, the human resources department of the U.S. government. The federal government is still assessing the impact of the cyberattack, the biggest hack to compromise federal employee data in years.

“It’s not going to be the last attack. Unfortunately, there are many,” Sexton said. “But that’s why it’s so important for us to invest in cybersecurity and learn more about it.”

Cybercrime can cost the global economy up to $575 billion per year, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and McAfee, a computer security firm. This type of crime costs the U.S. almost $108 billion or .64 percent of the country’s gross domestic product annually. The report also estimates that about 200,000 Americans could lose their jobs due to the economic losses caused by cyberattacks.

 Cyberattacks on the rise

 Cyberattacks on large companies increased 40 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to a report by Symantec, an information technology security company based in California. Last year also broke the record for “zero-day attacks” at 24 total.

A zero-day attack refers to when cybercriminals use a hole in software to launch an attack without software developers even knowing about the flaw. The attack continues until developers learn about the flaw and launch a patch to fix it.

In the top five zero-day attacks last year, hackers took advantage of software flaws for a combined 295 days before developers fixed the problem, according to the Symantec report.

The creation of malware also went up 26 percent last year, according to the report. Nearly 1 million new pieces of malware were created per day.

Mobile threats are also up, according to a poll by CyberEdge, a security consulting company headquartered in Maryland. Almost 60 percent of the 814 information technology professionals who responded to the poll said they saw mobile threats increasing in 2014. The respondents represented 19 industries in seven countries.

Also, 71 percent of the IT professionals polled said their networks were breached in 2014. This number is up from 62 percent in 2013.

Why cybercrimes are going up

Committing a cybercrime is relatively cheap, but the rewards are high, according to the McAfee report. The risk for cybercriminals getting caught is also low.

“The rate of return on cybercrime favors the criminal,” according to the report. “The incentive is to steal more.”

Investing in cybersecurity

To fight the growing number of cyberattacks, investment in cybersecurity has also grown. The National Security Agency and the National Science Foundation, for example, are investing $4 million on GenCyber, a program that offers young students interested in cybersecurity careers opportunities to learn first-hand about the latest technology in a university setting.

“It is important to seize the imagination of young people who have an interest in this field, showing them the challenges and opportunities that await them,” said Steve LaFountain, Dean of NSA’s College of Cyber. “GenCyber camps help interested young people – from every corner of the United States and from diverse backgrounds – gain some incredible experience in this ever-changing field.”

GRU has made cybersecurity a major strategic priority because of the subject’s importance for the Augusta area and the nation, said Gretchen Caughman, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost at GRU. The U.S. Army Cyber Command is moving its headquarters to Fort Gordon in Augusta.

“There’s a need for cybersecurity everywhere,” Caughman said. “Cyber education has to start early.”

GRU launches Cyber Institute

Georgia Regents University is creating the GRU Cyber Institute to develop research, new curriculum, and outreach opportunities in cybersecurity starting this summer.

“We want to be known for cyber,” said Joanne Sexton, Director for GRU Cyber Security Educational Initiatives. “The Augusta area has been growing in this aspect, and we want to be a major player in that.”

GRU has been working toward creating the Cyber Institute for a few years and has already established a cyber curriculum, said Gretchen Caughman, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost . The news that Fort Gordon would become the new headquarters for the U.S. Army Cyber Command only accelerated the process.

“We have made cybersecurity a major strategic priority,” Caughman said. “And the University System of Georgia endorsed that priority and provided new funding that will aid in launching the Cyber Institute. GRU is making a commitment as well.”

The creation of the institute is also a step toward getting recognition as a Department of Homeland Security and National Security Agency National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance/Cyber Defense.

“I congratulate GRU on this proactive step to enhance educational opportunities for its students and contribute to the Augusta community’s growing role in our nation’s cyber defense,” said U.S. Congressman Rick Allen. “I have heard firsthand from GRU faculty about their vision and commitment to building an excellent program that equips its students to excel in this increasingly important field. I look forward to seeing the great things accomplished by the GRU Cyber Institute.”

U.S. Congressman Lynn Westmoreland also endorsed GRU’s efforts.

“Georgia’s support for the men and women protecting our country is well known and respected across the nation, and I am thrilled to see GRU’s new Cyber Institute will contribute to that excellence,” said Rep. Westmoreland, who is Chairman of the NSA and Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “Cybersecurity is a highly skilled and critical field in our nation’s defense strategy, and being prepared is imperative to keeping our homeland safe. I look forward to supporting GRU’s success in both student education on cyber defense and security, and their contributions to our national security.”

The Cyber Institute will provide the framework for all things cyber at the university, in cooperation with several of GRU’s colleges, which currently offer cybersecurity courses and degrees. They include cybersecurity programs through the Hull College of Business, a medical informatics program focused on protection of health information through the College of Allied Health Sciences, and courses on cyberterrorism through the Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

“We have the opportunity to collaborate across the university, to take advantage of the unique offerings of each of the colleges,” Sexton said. “That’s what the institute is in a unique position to do.”

To watch this story on WFXG Fox 54, click here.

Free mobile game brings awareness to cystic fibrosis

AUGUSTA, Ga. – If you are a fan of Fruit Ninja or Super Mario, the latest app developed by Georgia Regents University and local fifth-graders is a must-have.

Battle Bacteria is educational, fun, and free to download.​

The main goal of the game is to bring awareness to cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects about 30,000 people in the U.S. and 70,000 worldwide.

Fifth-grade students at Chukker Creek Elementary in Aiken, S.C., came up with the initial concept and design for the characters in the game, said Jeff Mastromonico, director of the instructional design and development department at GRU.

Fifth-graders at Chukker Creek Elementary in Aiken, S.C., designed all characters of Bacteria Battle and researched all the facts about cystic fibrosis displayed in the game.
Fifth-graders at Chukker Creek Elementary in Aiken, S.C., designed all characters of Bacteria Battle and researched all the facts about cystic fibrosis displayed in the game.

“I developed the gameplay and design, getting regular feedback from the students as well as meeting with them on campus to discuss the game and answer any question they had about the process,” he said.

In the game, players become aware of what cystic fibrosis is, what causes it and what the symptoms and treatments are.

“The students were responsible for researching the cystic fibrosis facts and information that are supplied in the game,” Mastromonico said.

The idea for the app

The idea to create the game came from Alecia Kinard, whose daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, Mastromonico said.

Kinard wanted to educate children and parents about the disorder and wanted fifth graders at Chukker Creek Elementary involved in the project.

After seeing an app that GRU helped create to teach children with diabetes about making good food choices, Kinard approached Mastromonico with her idea.

“This seemed a perfect fit with some of the work that we have been doing lately with the Children’s Hospital of Georgia developing games for them to utilize with patients,” Mastromonico said. “The added benefit of working with young students and educating them about careers in app, web, and game development also felt like the perfect opportunity to make ourselves available as a resource to the community.”

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disorder caused by a defective, recessive gene.

This gene makes body fluids such as mucus and digestive juices thicker and stickier. In turn, these fluids lose their lubricant properties, causing them to accumulate in the lungs and the digestive tract.

This build-up may lead to serious lung infections and life-threatening damage to the pancreas and other organs of the digestive system.

​There is no known cure for the disorder.

Playing Battle Bacteria

In this military-style game, you are the antibiotic and your mission is to kill the different bacteria that are in the lungs and pancreas of a person with cystic fibrosis.

In the first level, you have to slice and kill the bacteria in the lungs and be careful not to burst the oxygen bubbles in the same way you would cut fruits in Fruit Ninja and avoid exploding bombs.

The second level is similar to Super Mario in that you have to jump on the enemies to destroy them. Just be careful not to touch the enzymes, which could kill you.

Battle Bacteria has had about 700 downloads since its launch in March. It is available for Android and iOS platforms, and you can download it for free on Google Play or iTunes.