Published: May 1, 2018

Did you know that your smart refrigerator could be hijacked to carry out a denial-of-service attack on a bank? Or that your car’s emergency alert system could be used to flood the 911 system with calls?

Professor Dan Massey has seen it happen firsthand, and it’s why he is on a mission to expand the cybersecurity curriculum in CU Engineering.

Massey comes to CU Boulder from the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Cyber Security Division. His goal is to expose all engineering students to the basics of cybersecurity, so they can carry that knowledge into their careers.

Everyone who’s creating technology needs some experience with cybersecurity. 

“We’re beefing up cybersecurity, but we’re thinking of it more across engineering,” he said. “We don’t want this just to be great for the computer scientists.”

As computing becomes ubiquitous across all industries, everyone who’s creating technology needs some experience with cybersecurity, Massey said.

While computer science has offered an “ethical hacking” class for many years, it was a small, senior-level course. For spring 2018, Massey is pioneering a sophomore-level course that will provide a “basic fluency” in cybersecurity. Eager computer science students quickly filled this semester’s course, but Massey envisions that it will eventually be open to all engineering majors.

He also hopes to create more courses, both for computer science students who want a deeper dive and for an optional cybersecurity minor.

“I want to take advantage of all the resources in the Boulder area—faculty who are already doing research in this area, entrepreneurs with security startups, national labs, everything,” he said.

One of those resources is the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator, a Department of Defense program that has chosen CU Boulder as its regional hub for the Rocky Mountain region.

Lloyd Thrall, a CU Boulder alumnus who directs the regional program, is working closely with the college to provide new cybersecurity-related experiences for students. They are involved with a new Hacking for Defense course and co-sponsored a cybersecurity track in February’s T9Hacks women’s hackathon.

Thrall said the DoD wants to build stronger ties with academia and startups to address national security challenges in areas where civilian and military needs are overlapping more and more.

“We can’t solve the problem by reading Wired in D.C.” he said. “If you dissect successful outcomes in tech, they come from the human side of the equation.”