Cybersecurity / Privacy Team Awarded $300,000

“Shall We Play A Game?” is one of the most heart-pounding lines in the 1983 movie WarGames. – David Lightman, played by Matthew Broderick was a young computer whiz kid who accidentally connects into a top-secret super-computer named War Operation Planned Response (WOPR), pronounced ‘whopper’.  WOPR which has complete control over the U.S. nuclear arsenal challenges Lightman to a game between America and Russia, and David innocently starts the countdown to World War 3.


Most computer whiz kids are intrigued by the inner workings of computers and find ways to improve technology and advance the industry, while others have ill intent.  This can be said of Thomas A. Anderson, played by Keanu Reeves in the sci-fi movie Matrix. By day he is an average computer programmer and by night a hacker known as Neo. More recent the Bruce Willis movie Live Free or Die Hard dives into the life of a hacker and the terror cyber insecurities can cause, when someone hacks into the computers at the FBI’s Cyber Crime Division. John McClane, played by Willis is attempting to stop cyber terrorists who hack into government and commercial computers across the United States with the goal to start a “fire sale” of financial assets.


While some may feel these movies are a bit far-fetched, the reality is we all are subjected to digital intrusion and vulnerability.  Computers are everywhere and are apart of everything we do.  Though small, cell phones are functioning computers, in lieu of the tablet, laptop or desktop computers.  There are real-life hackers who find it intriguing and in some cases lucrative to infiltrate computers and bypass security measures.


Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU), Dr. Na Li has been researching and teaching in Cybersecurity for several years.  Li’s particular interest is the privacy in network and computing, such as wireless sensor networks and online social networks. Her research has been published more than 20 times and cited more than 750 times by other researchers.


Dr. Na Li in collaboration with Dr. Lin Li (PVAMU) and Dr. Li Yang (University of Tennessee at Chattanooga) were recently awarded a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for developing innovative privacy learning modules to engage students in cybersecurity education.


The rapid development of Internet services such as cloud computing, social networks, and mobile applications have increased attention to privacy protection by both industry and academia. Demand for information security is at an all-time high, creating an urgent shortfall in the national workforce. Despite recognized and critical societal needs, privacy education has not been integrated satisfactorily into undergraduate Computer Science (CS) curricula.


The research serves national interest, which includes how to develop effective hands-on labs to enhance the teaching in privacy. They cover broad topics of privacy, such as location privacy, privacy in wireless sensor networks, Internet of Things (IoT) privacy and web tracking privacy. They have researched the private related problems in these cutting-edge areas, and are designing and developing creative lab tools for students to effectively learn concepts while playing with the tools.


Although the research is still ongoing, as an 1890 Land-Grant university, underrepresented minorities at PVAMU will benefit from this project. In addition, the project will evaluate the effectiveness of an experiential learning approach based on student learning outcomes, experiences, and motivation, and attitudes toward privacy issues.  Who knows, maybe the next cybersecurity movie will be based on the research conducted at Prairie View A&M, but in the meantime, the advancement of undergraduate education in computer science is at the forefront of technological importance.


Author:  Maurice Perkins