The University of Idaho has opened a second cybersecurity training and operations lab near Spokane as it also looks to take advantage of a new grant and donation.

The UI opened the new lab Aug. 25 in Post Falls as an outgrowth of the cybersecurity lab it opened in 2002 in Coeur d’Alene. The new lab will focus on the needs of companies like Idaho Power and Avista, and government agencies like the Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls.

Fatbeam, an internet company, gave a pair of private fiber optic lines and 10 years of internet service.

Karen Thurston, director of the Cybersecurity Training and Operations Center in Coeur d’Alene, said the fiber will allow the lab to run independently from the network that supports the operations of the university.

“It’s very important because of the nature of cybersecurity,” Thurston said.

“We don’t want to have anything running on the university network that could potentially compromise” it.

The race between hackers and security experts is escalating. Hackers have breached the digital security of companies like Home Depot, Target, J.P. Morgan Chase and the Sony Play Station Network to steal the personal information of their customers. Just this past week a Lewiston accounting firm reported a breach that could involve payroll information.

Hackers can also dramatically affect a country’s infrastructure. In 2013, Iranian hackers were able to breach a dam near Rye Brook, N.Y. and take control of the flood gates. Russian hackers have been linked to a recent breach of Democratic National Committee emails.

At the UI, the team of Jim Alves-Foss, director of the Center for Secure and Dependable Systems, and UI post-doctoral fellow Jia Song entered a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency grant challenge at the Defcon hackers convention in Las Vegas. To get a DARPA grant, contestants identify intrusions into software and automatically identify and go after the intruder. The team finished in second place last year and was sixth this year.

“They had to actually go on the offensive and attack the perpetrators,” said Larry Stauffer, a UI engineering professor who works with the lab.

“It’s only going to accelerate, and it is kind of a cat and mouse game,” Stauffer said. “You learn how to protect against one form of intrusion, and they come up with something else.”

The UI hopes that kind of thinking will help it prepare the next generation of security experts to work in Idaho Falls for the Idaho National Laboratory, which describes itself as a major center for national security technology development and demonstration.

The university received a $2.1 million grant from the state in August to enhance Idaho’s cyber and physical systems, specifically looking for vulnerabilities in control systems.

“Water treatment facilities, power plants, transmission facilities — any kind of manufacturing facility — things that are connected to the whole internet of things, those are control systems,” Stauffer said. “There’s been cases of radiation treatment centers (at MedStar Health in Washington, D.C.) being hacked and taken over and a hospital extorted for money to put those systems back online under a threat of injuring patients.”

Any prospective cybersecurity students have an incredible deal before them. If a student is accepted into the lab, they will have all their expenses waived, in addition to earning a salary. An undergrad student will make $22,000 a year, while grad students will make $35,000 a year. The only catch is they have to work for the federal government or lab for the same amount of time they received the scholarships.


Tom Hager can be reached at (208) 883-4633 or by email to thager@dnews.com.

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