Making Sense of Security

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Making Sense of Security

NSA and University of Illinois: Partnering to Secure Networks and Cyber Systems

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The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Illinois) is one of the first universities to partner with NSA on researching the science of security and has been working on cybersecurity problems with NSA for more than 19 years.

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

To celebrate this partnership, NSA has named Illinois as a featured school and is highlighting the collaboration on,, and on social media beginning January 23, 2020. 

“As a public comprehensive research university, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has an opportunity and responsibility to advance our society,” said Illinois Chancellor Robert Jones. “We are honored to be named a National Security Agency Featured School, and we look forward to continuing to partner to develop the talent and tools needed for our national security challenges.” 

The partnership began in 2000 when Illinois was designated as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense (CAE-CD), a program now jointly sponsored by NSA and the Department of Homeland Security. That program, along with a CAE-Research designation, which Illinois received in 2008, promotes higher education and research in the critical area of cybersecurity.
At about the same time NSA researchers began collaborating with Illinois faculty and students in support of broad cybersecurity and assurance goals, to include research in programming languages and system verification in support of systems analysis. 

“This early work with Illinois … led to valued capability developments that are still in use within NSA and partner federal agencies today,” said Mr. Brad Martin, Illinois Academic Liaison. 

In 2011, Illinois became one of just three universities to host a SoS Lablet. Dr. David Nicol, a professor at Illinois, has been involved in the lablet since the beginning and appreciates the fact that NSA has been investing in research at the early “conceptual” stages.

“I was pleased that the problem of viewing the scientific basis for security was being taken seriously,” he said. “It’s commendable that NSA recognized this issue and invested resources in studying it.”

NSA has also awarded Illinois more than $600,000 in grants over the last five years and has hosted a number of summer interns from the university. Currently, two students at Illinois are in the Stokes Educational Scholarship Program, which recruits students, particularly minorities, who have demonstrated skills critical to NSA. The students receive up to $30,000 a year toward their college education and commit to summer internships and six years of agency employment following graduation.  

Currently 115 Illinois graduates with degrees at all levels in areas from mathematics to Russian work at NSA.
“We have many talented employees at NSA who have come from Illinois,” said Ms. Kathy Hutson, NSA’s Senior Strategist for Academic Engagement. “We are so pleased with the partnership we have forged with the university and what it has yielded for NSA.”

Illinois is the fifth university to be named an NSA Featured School. The series highlights schools designated as CAEs that have a depth and breadth of engagement with the Agency. Visit the Illinois website to learn more about the University.
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