cybersecurity

TU Law professor explores the role of U.S. and international law to mitigate foreign interference in elections

If Russia’s interference in the 2016 United States presidential election was a challenge, in 2020 it is set to become even more brazen and sophisticated in the Kremlin’s attempt to get President Trump re-elected. The University of Tulsa College of Law’s Ido Kilovaty focuses on how U.S. and international law could be used to mitigate the threat of election interference. “While there isn’t a silver bullet solution that could fully address and prevent election interference in the digital era,” Kilovaty observed, “some portions of U.S. and international law may offer some relief.”

Kilovaty is the inaugural Zedalis Family Fund Professor of Law. This professorship was generously created by former TU Law Professor Rex Zedalis in order to promote excellence in instruction and scholarship at the college. Kilovaty currently teaches courses in cybersecurity law and policy, computer crime law, international law and technology law.

Professor Ido Kilovaty teaching in a TU College of Law classroom
Professor Ido Kilovaty

An expert in cybersecurity law, cybercrime and international law and cyberspace, Kilovaty has published extensively in these areas in, for example, Ohio State Law Journal, Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Harvard National Security Journal, UC Irvine Law Review (forthcoming) and Tennessee Law Review (forthcoming). “Ido Kilovaty is one of the most exciting voices in the country on cyberlaw,” said Oona Hathaway, the Gerard C. and Bernice Latrobe Smith Professor of International Law at Yale Law School. “His combination of technical know-how, creative vision and deep understanding of the law allows him to see things that others miss. He is writing up a storm and, in the process, helping to create and shape a new field of cybersecurity law.”

“Non-intervention” in the digital age

At present, Kilovaty is studying how U.S. law could adapt to the increasing volume of availability attacks, such as distributed denial-of-service and ransomware; how private tech companies are setting the agenda for international cybersecurity norms; and the ways human rights law applies to extraterritorial state-sponsored activities. This last topic directly pertains to the threat of Russian interference in U.S. elections.

International law prohibits states from coercively interfering in each other’s domestic affairs, whether social, political or economic. This is often referred to as “non-intervention.” Any election interference that reaches a certain level of magnitude and coercion would, therefore, be in violation of international law. However, Kilovaty’s research has found that the application of this longstanding norm is not as straightforward as it might seem.

graphic illustration of a ballot box protected by key terms in Kilovaty's argument“While cases where one state tells another state ‘Do X, or else’ may offer a clear-cut example of prohibited intervention, the use of political bots, disinformation, and distribution of sensitive documents may not necessarily reach the requisite level of ‘coercion’ required by non-intervention,” he explained. “This really calls us to reconsider what non-intervention ought to mean in the digital era, where acts of interference may be harmful despite the fact that they do not reach the level of coercion required by international law.”

Kilovaty published an article about non-intervention and election interference in 2018 in the Harvard National Security Journal. Since then, however, he has become convinced that the legal answer may come from a different direction.

“Non-intervention is still good law, but it’s not great,” Kilovaty opined. “That is because it misses a substantial portion of state-sponsored acts, such as election interference through cyberspace, which do not fit the centuries-old criteria of the law.”

The human right to cybersecurity

Kilovaty now proposes a different – better – approach: international human rights law, which looks at the specific individual rights that are violated when states interfere in each other’s political processes.

To bolster this contention, Kilovaty has argued for the recognition of a new human right: the human right to cybersecurity. Part of his research program at present entails exploring whether states should be obligated to respect the human rights of individuals outside of their territory. “For example,” he remarked, “is Russia under the obligation to respect the human rights of Americans, and vice versa? The answer, I argue, should be ‘yes.’”

The role of computer crime and cybersecurity law

But the overall legal approach to tackle election interference, Kilovaty believes, cannot be limited to international law. U.S. computer crime law and cybersecurity law also have their respective roles to play in addressing foreign election interference.

On Kilovaty’s account, computer crime law may provide some degree of deterrence, albeit limited. “Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 12 Russians involved in the Democratic National Committee hack illustrated the strengths and weaknesses of reliance on the domestic criminal justice system to address foreign election hacking.”

Similarly, Kilovaty believes that cybersecurity law may be used to improve the overall cybersecurity of election infrastructure in a way that decreases the likelihood of successful foreign election interference. “At the end of the day, if hackers can find a vulnerability in a voting machine, they are able to exploit it. If they can’t find vulnerabilities, then interference becomes much more difficult. The role of cybersecurity law is to provide incentives for good security practices and sanction those that are not taking their cybersecurity seriously. On a more individualistic level,” he remarked, “if we are able to secure our own devices, and become more judicious of what we read online, then that would similarly decrease the efficacy of any election interference attempts.”

Overall, Kilovaty contends, there is a lot the law can do to address election interference, but it cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. Different areas of law, both domestic and international, will have to be adapted in concert with each other to effectively deter, prevent and mitigate election interference in the digital era.


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TU, Noodle Partners team up to offer online degrees

The University of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s highest-ranked national university, is launching an online MBA and elevating its online master’s in cybersecurity with Noodle Partners, the fastest-growing online program manager.

Increasingly, adult learners are opting for programs that fit their busy lives. TU is working to improve the accessibility of their programs by meeting those students where they are — online.

The online MBA offers a part-time option to prepare students for career advancement in the private and public sectors as well as for positions of leadership and responsibility in business and society.

Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing job sectors in the United States; the BLS projects a 32% increase in employment from 2018 to 2028, more than six times higher than the average for careers in the U.S. For 20 years, TU has been one of just a handful of institutions designated as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense Education.

“The University of Tulsa is excited to leverage the resources and expertise of Noodle Partners to further develop these two online degree programs and meet the needs of students seeking a research university-level education outside of a traditional classroom setting,” said Interim President Janet Levit. “TU’s MBA and MS in Cybersecurity attract highly motivated working professionals who will use the degrees to advance their careers and support the nation’s thriving business and technology industries.”

TU’s online MBA program features readily available student access to top-notch faculty along with small class sizes that promote participation and interaction among peers and faculty in the online environment. The degree is ideal for online learners seeking a flexible schedule that allows them to balance work and other priorities. Students who enroll in two courses per semester can complete the program in 24 months and receive career placement assistance from the Business Career Center.

The online MS in Cybersecurity requires 30 credits to graduate. The program offers an entirely online curriculum, along with an option to take immersive courses in which students spend one week on campus completing hands-on, intensive training guided by faculty. The program is designed to be completed in 24 months, and students can continue to work as full-time professionals while completing the degree.

“TU is making an excellent strategic move by launching these innovative online programs,” said John Katzman, CEO of Noodle Partners. “We have total confidence in our partnership with TU, and we’re excited to see how its incoming cohorts of students leverage their degrees in the workforce.”

About Noodle Partners
Founded by a team of education and technology veterans, Noodle Partners creates innovative online and hybrid programs while improving traditional classroom models. Noodle Partners has the capability to work with universities on every aspect of building a certificate or degree program that they choose—marketing, student recruitment, enrollment, curriculum design, student engagement, support services, graduate placement, and alumni engagement—and provides a high level of fit and finish. For more information, visit noodle-partners.com or follow us on Twitter @Noodle_Partners or LinkedIn.

Nationally recognized TU cyber programs expanding in 2020

The University of Tulsa’s national reputation as a leader in computer science and cybersecurity education spans more than two decades, and in 2020, TU is poised to launch a new wave of opportunities that will benefit students, faculty, local educators and the entire cybersecurity industry.

Cyber Summit 2020

TU cyberLast year, TU introduced a cybersecurity conference unlike any other in the country. The Tulsa Cyber Summit welcomed students, executives, entrepreneurs and innovators for high-profile keynotes such as former CIA Director John Brennan, Facebook Security Director Aanchal Gupta and Team8 Founder and CEO Nadav Zafrir, as well as workshops and panel discussions with more than 40 leaders and executives in the cybersecurity industry.

Organizers are preparing for an even bigger conference March 22-24, 2020, at the Cox Convention Center in downtown Tulsa. The event will spotlight Tulsa’s emerging cyber industry and the valuable relationship TU holds with local and national cyber partners. Learn more about this year’s program and register to attend at utulsa.edu/cybercon.

“This year’s Cyber Summit is multi-focal,” said event organizer and Tandy School of Computer Science Chair John Hale. “We will continue the dual leadership and technology tracks, but also are incorporating a mini-track dedicated to cyber insurance, a thread of talks that will be of special relevance to small and medium-sized enterprises, and a panel on gender and diversity issues in the cyber workforce. In addition, we will welcome a group of national cyber experts as this year’s keynote speakers.”

TU-Team8 Cyber Fellows

Also new in 2020, TU is joining forces with the Tel Aviv, Israel-based cyber venture creation firm Team8 to establish the TU-Team8 Cyber Fellows program for doctoral students in the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences. The program is designed for students seeking to advance cyber R&D across security, big data and artificial intelligence, creating new methods and commercially viable solutions that enable a secure and productive all-digital future.

TU cyberFunded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, the cyber fellowship program provides full financial support for 10 STEM-related doctoral degrees at TU to develop research projects that have the potential to fundamentally impact the world. Students receive free tuition, an annual living stipend/salary, TU graduate student benefits and a $20,000 bonus if they stay in Tulsa for at least two years after graduation.

TU’s rich history in cyber education and expertise combined with Team8’s ability to identify big problems and assemble the team, ecosystem and capital to drive a solution will prepare students with the cyber resilience and data science capabilities to enact a worldwide digital transformation.

The Ph.D. program officially begins in fall 2020. Students can apply by contacting Rose Gamble, Tandy Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, at gamble@utulsa.edu.

MS Cybersecurity Online

TU cyberTU’s master of science in cybersecurity online degree has produced its first two graduates. Aaron Arneson, a U.S. Air Force civilian employee, and Jon Clemenson, director of information security at 10th Magnitude, graduated in December 2019 and will use their TU graduate degrees to advance their cybersecurity careers. The TU online program is designed for working professionals seeking to gain the skills and expertise necessary to thrive in the growing cyber field. The curriculum can be completed in 24 months, and students can continue to work as full-time professionals while completing their degree.

To apply to the program or for more details, contact Randy Roberts, program business manager, at 918-631-6523 or rsr1451@utulsa.edu.

CyberCity

Just announced, TU will debut the multi-year CyberCity program in the summer of 2020 to infuse cyber education into every school and eventually every classroom in the Tulsa metropolitan area. The initiative will energize a generation of students to transform the city and its economy.

CyberCity also is sponsored by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and will be led by Sujeet Shenoi, professor of computer science and chemical engineering and founder of TU’s Cyber Corps, along with Kimberly Adams, Chapman Senior Instructor of Mathematics. Four week-long workshops will be held in June and July for elementary and middle school teachers. Enrollment in each week’s workshop will cap at 36. Groups of teachers from Tulsa-area schools are encouraged to participate in a workshop to create critical mass, foster collaborative efforts during the academic year and add cyber curricula and activities to their schools.

Workshop topics will include cybersecurity concepts and best practices, online safety, cyber ethics, computer gaming, the Internet of Things, robot and drone programming as well as the critical infrastructure, cryptography and coding involved in Python programming language. Each teacher will receive a $600 stipend, Raspberry Pi with a keyboard and mouse, flash drive with instructional materials, lockbox kit and the book “Cracking Codes with Python: An Introduction to Building and Breaking Cyphers.”

“We envision enabling a generation of cyber-savvy ‘tinkerers’ and innovators capable of changing the city’s economic base,” Shenoi said. “This is something we should do if we want to change our city.”

TU cyberTU will support teachers throughout the school year with an interactive web platform to share ideas and ask questions, creating an online community that fosters collaboration in developing lesson plans and other learning materials.

Find more information and sign up for the program by contacting Kimberly Adams at kimberly-adams@utulsa.edu or Sujeet Shenoi at sujeet@utulsa.edu.

SIDEBAR: Competitive student learning events

For undergraduate and graduate cyber students, competitive events are an annual highlight of the academic year that demonstrate their talent, skillsets and potential as future professionals.

2019

In the summer of 2019, TU students collaborated with Professor of Computer Science Sandip Sen to design, develop, implement, test and field an agent that could perform repeated negotiations with human partners to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. The agent, named Draft Agent based on the core negotiating protocol used, was entered into the Human-Agent League of the Tenth International Automated Negotiating Agents Competition at IJCAI 2019, Aug. 10-16, in Macao, China. One of TU’s two entries was named a finalist and later the official winner, receiving a cash prize of $250.

TU students finished second at the 2019 Central Region Collegiate Pen Testing Competition (CPTC) Oct. 12-13 at Tennessee Tech. The event focuses on improving the offensive security posture of a fictitious organization and reporting on risks in a manner that is similar to a real professional environment. Students participate as part of an in-house red team, a consulting firm providing penetration testing services or an information security analyst to hone the technical, communication and collaboration skills they will use as professionals.

On Nov. 11, a group of students participated in the south-central regional event for the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC). Both TU teams finished at or near the top of the Oklahoma rankings and in the top third of the 60 total teams that competed. Team Aleph Naught placed first in the state and #11 in the region, and team Turing Tested received third place in Oklahoma and #20 in the region.

Nov. 29-Dec. 1, the Tandy School of Computer Science virtually hosted the TU Capture the Flag (CTF) information security competition. Around 1,000 teams from around the globe participated in the community-oriented event that featured high school and collegiate brackets. Capture The information security competition requires teams to solve a series of challenges to prepare students for careers in digital security.

2020

In 2020, TU students will attend the Information Security Talent Search Feb. 28-30 at Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y. The event is an annual three-day cyber attack/defend competition, challenging students to solve scenarios in computing security, system administration, networking and programming. Competitors engage in code review, architecture design, incident response and policy writing while defending a student-built infrastructure. The ISTS competition is an invite-only event featuring some of the best cybersecurity student teams in the nation. This is the first year TU students have participated in the competition. The team is sponsored by Phillips 66.

One of the most anticipated student events of the year is the Southwest Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (CCDC) Regional, March 20-22. Hosted on TU’s campus, the regional CCDC event requires students to assume administrative and protective duties for an existing “commercial” network. The eight regional CCDC winners will compete in the national competition April 16-18.

Other upcoming events include the AI, Creativity and Copyright conference March 27 and an annual high-performance computing competition on TU’s campus in April. The AI symposium will involve a panel discussion on the complicated idea of who owns copyright to the music an artificial intelligence system generates. This is complicated by the fact that machines cannot currently generate or own copyrights under U.S. law. The discussion will be followed by a hackathon in which student programmers create AI-driven music pieces. The event will conclude with a talk by one of the lead AI experts at Pandora music. Learn more about the event.

CyberCity initiative to enhance cyber curricula and activities in Tulsa-area schools 

TU will launch a new multi-year CyberCity program in the summer of 2020 to infuse cyber education into every school and eventually every classroom in the Tulsa metropolitan area, energizing a generation of students to transform the city and its economy.

During the first year of the CyberCity Initiative, TU will host up to four teacher workshops to impart cyber and cybersecurity concepts through hands-on activities designed for middle and elementary school classes. The activities will include projects, games and competitions, as well as content-creation lessons in classroom settings.

Cyber teachers for a cyber world

With financial support from the George Kaiser Family Foundation, TU’s Sujeet Shenoi, professor of computer science and chemical engineering and founder of TU’s famed Cyber Corps, along with Kimberly Adams, Chapman Senior Instructor of Mathematics, will hold four weeklong workshops in June and July 2020 — two for elementary school teachers and two for middle school teachers. Enrollment in each workshop will cap at 36 teachers. Groups of two to four teachers from Tulsa-area schools are encouraged to participate in a workshop to create critical mass, foster collaborative efforts during the academic year and add cyber curricula and activities to their schools.

The summer teacher workshops will cover cybersecurity concepts and best practices, online safety, cyber ethics, computer gaming, the Internet of Things, robot and drone programming as well as the critical infrastructure, cryptography and coding involved in the Python programming language. Each teacher will receive a $600 stipend, Raspberry PI with a keyboard and mouse, flash drive with instructional materials, lockbox kit and the book “Cracking Codes with Python: An Introduction to Building and Breaking Cyphers.”

“We envision enabling a generation of cyber-savvy “tinkerers” and innovators capable of changing the city’s economic base,” Shenoi said. “This is something we should do if we want to change our city.”

Beyond the summer series, TU will support teachers throughout the school year by providing an interactive web platform to share ideas and ask questions, creating an online community that fosters collaboration in developing lesson plans and other learning materials.

TU mini-camp

Expected in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, TU will offer mini-camps for the trained teachers to share ideas and best practices and explore lesson planning ideas. The camps will enable teachers to network with each other and other cyber experts to enhance their skills and increase their exposure to new technologies. Each teacher will receive a $100 stipend for participating in the mini-camps, and substitute teachers for a mini-camp attendee will receive $70. Mini-camp participants will be required to submit papers that reflect their cyber training and describe how they are implementing cyber curricula into their classrooms.

To learn more about the CyberCity initiative or to apply, please email Kimberly Adams at kimberly-adams@utulsa.edu or Sujeet Shenoi at sujeet@utulsa.edu.

TU alumni cracking cases as digital forensic investigators 

The sky is the limit when you’ve got a TU degree in computer science or cybersecurity. Between the two of them, alumni Gavin Manes (B.S. ’01, M.S. ’02, Ph.D. ’04) and Lance Watson (B.S. ’96, M.S. ’03) have earned five degrees from the Tandy School of Computer Science, and their flair for entrepreneurial ventures grows with each new idea. Among the several businesses they have established, their digital forensic and e-discovery firm, Avansic, has a national reputation for private investigative work.

Learn more about the Tandy School of Computer Science and TU’s cyber programs.

Digital forensics: The early years

digital forensic
Gavin Manes

When Manes founded Avansic in 2004, the legal world had not yet embraced the concept of digital forensics. In hindsight, Watson said the firm was ahead of its time — especially in Oklahoma, where he and Manes spent much of their time providing educational outreach to prospective clients. “For the first five years of the business, paychecks were thin,” Watson explained. “We had to educate people about what they wanted, what they could get from our company and then, ultimately, why they needed our help.”

Despite resistance from some corners of the legal profession, Avansic did its legwork and created an initiative to inform clients about how they could use and benefit from digital forensic services. “Computer forensics is the act of investigating what happened on a computer to explain a story,” Manes said. “With e-discovery, you’re facilitating a group of lawyers to review the content from that computer to prove something to help you in court.”

Both tactics are based on the same function of evidence processing and preservation. Digital forensics examines how a document was placed on a computer, who looked at it, who opened it, who copied it, etc., while e-discovery looks at what’s stated in the email or Word document. “Early on, we were just doing digital forensics because e-discovery didn’t exist yet,” Gavin explained. “At least 70 percent of our business was outside of the state.”

Cell phone secrets

Avansic’s primary customers are law firms who represent an individual or corporation. Much of the work involves cell phone forensics for family matters or family court cases. Avansic private investigators can perform a service known as “turn and burn” where they retrieve information on a child’s phone and hand it over directly to the parents. Other expert witness work focuses on interpreting mobility user reports using cell site locations. Most of Avansic’s cases are civil in nature, but Manes said the company will take on a criminal case in special circumstances. “We’re like Dog the Bounty Hunter, but we’re nerds,” he said with a grin.

Lance WatsonBy 2015, the climate of digital forensics had advanced to the point that clients began to contact Avansic with specific requests. The company’s computer scientists and IT specialists are a special breed who can crack the case while communicating effectively with lawyers and other clients. In one instance, Watson’s digital forensic testimony led to the release of a prison inmate after his research determined the person had been incarcerated on the premise of a misinterpretation of data. “Sitting on a stand, talking to a judge or jury, you have to be relatable and convincing,” Manes said.

Tulsa’s entrepreneurial climate

From a closet office where four employees shared the same workspace, Avansic has grown into its current offices in downtown Tulsa. The firm’s success during the past couple of years could be replicated in other cities around the country that are known for their startup and tech industries, but Manes and Watson say there are benefits to keeping home base in Tulsa. “We’ve got more fiber than practically anyone in the United States, and office space is affordable,” Watson said. “It’s not hard to find qualified people to work for us here. The state is training a lot of people at various levels but with skills we can use.”

Manes reiterated that it can be difficult to stop Oklahoma’s current “brain drain,” but opportunity lies in the additional hiring of cybersecurity and digital forensic specialists at corporations, in-house. “There’s a lot of energy and desire to build entrepreneurship in the city of Tulsa, it’s just a matter of how we get it done,” he said.

The world is your oyster

TU’s degree programs in the Tandy School of Computer Science aim to prepare students for exciting careers while preventing them from leaving the state. Watson grew up in the Tulsa area and attended TU as a nontraditional student while working full time. He received a bachelor’s degree in computer science and a master’s in cybersecurity thanks in part to supportive faculty such as Dale Schoenefeld and the late Travis Tull. “I have a deep appreciation for the professors I worked with there,” he said. “Dale Schoenefeld did so much for me and my wife. I cannot thank him enough for all he did for us.”

Manes, from Dallas, came to Tulsa for his bachelor’s degree in computer science and never left. As an undergraduate, he worked on robotics projects with Professor Gerry Kane, sang in the men’s chorale group, filed a patent with fellow student (now Tandy School of Computer Science chairman) John Hale and took one of his favorite courses, genetic algorithms, from Professor Roger Wainwright. While earning his master’s and Ph.D., he helped established the Computer Information Security group, which later became known as the Institute for Information Security (iSEC) and led the effort to match TU computer science students with Tulsa law enforcement to solve cybercrime cases — an initiative that is still active today. “We paired young students who knew everything about computers and technology with law enforcement officers,” Manes said. “The officer learns everything about computers, and the student learns everything about humans and interacting with people.”

Manes and Watson remain involved at their alma mater through the occasional lecture or Q&A session with students. Manes is the scheduled keynote for the Collins College of Business Friends of Finance speaker series in January. Whether meeting with clients or answering questions from students, both alumni tout the benefits of a computer science degree from TU. “The world’s your oyster if you’ve got that degree,” Watson said. “When we talk to seniors, we explain it’s not a matter of what you can do in computer science but what can’t you do — the possibilities are endless. Our skills apply to data, programming, computer operations in every industry these days.”

“Computer science is one of those things that once you learn it, you can teach it forever,” Manes explained. “There were a lot of opportunities for me to do interesting things as a student, and I don’t think that’s changed at TU.” 

Computer science interns learn hacking 101 and other cyber secrets

Internships are the most realistic way to introduce students to a professional career environment in computer science. When college students are unsure of what area(s) to pursue in their discipline, an internship can provide insight and direction. Bonus: It doesn’t hurt that internships are key opportunities to network with professionals and scope out the job market.

Meaghan Longenberger, a computer science major from Hickory Creek, Texas, completed an internship in the IBM X-Force Red unit in Austin, Texas. Tabor Kvasnicka, a computer simulation and gaming student from Enid, Oklahoma, also interned at IBM in Austin earlier this year. Both students gained valuable exposure to the many different options a cybersecurity career offers.

Hacking 101

Longenberger’s internship involved shadowing projects underway with IBM Red team communications, writing a proposal for what kind of research she wanted to conduct at IBM, presenting her research and participating in an eight-week bootcamp that covered all areas of the cybersecurity industry.
“I got experience explaining, ‘here’s what I did and here are the results’ in front of executives,” she said. “It was good practice speaking in front of people and trying to explain technical details.”

The bootcamp involved an IBM specialist visiting the Austin lab each week to give presentations on cyber topics such as how to hack wi-fi, lock-picking and physical security, pen-testing, social engineering and more. “All of these experts who work there discussed the team’s internal processes,” Longenberger explained. “It was a brain dump, but so amazing to learn from all of these different people who have been in the industry for years.”

An interest in computers combined with her father’s background in electronics and her grandfather’s experience in electrical engineering led Longenberger to The University of Tulsa and the computer science major. During her TU career, she has conducted a Tulsa Undergraduate Research Challenge (TURC) project with Tyler Moore, Tandy Associate Professor of Cybersecurity and Information Assurance. “We did a lot of data scraping and analyzing how different cyberattacks would affect cryptocurrency and crypto-exchange marketplaces,” she said.

Working in a professional setting at IBM demonstrated Longenberger’s cybersecurity skills, and she said the connections made at IBM will benefit her career. “Interning is the closest to real-world work. I know I can always reach out to the people that I met at X-Force for advice on companies and work environments.”

Containerized environment visibility

Kvasnicka worked for in the chief information security office at IBM as part of the company’s security operations center. He served on the architect team and researched open source and internal solutions to a rising problem in containerized environments visibility. Tools exist for studying the visibility of traditional environments such as threat monitoring but fewer resources are available for monitoring environments that use Kubernetes, docker and other related technologies. “It was interesting to see a problem in the cybersecurity world that was a real-life problem for an international company like IBM with 300,000 employees,” Kvasnicka said.

His IBM internship complements the work Kvasnicka has done the past two summers at eLynx Technologies in Tulsa along with competitive learning opportunities as a TU team member at the Collegiate Cyber Defense, Capture the Flag and Collegiate Pen-Testing competitions. He is also a TU TokenEx Fellow who has received a cybersecurity scholarship from the Oklahoma-based data protection platform company TokenEx, founded by TU computer science alumni. “Dr. Hale’s lab prepared me for the IBM role because we worked with things like infrastructure and scaling,” Kvasnicka said. “I came to TU to learn how to make video games, but now that I’ve experienced what I could potentially do in the cybersecurity world, I’m strongly considering the field.”

Guidance from faculty and alumni

A simple email or phone call is all it takes sometimes to help a student find an internship. John Hale, Tandy Professor of Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, told Longenberger about IBM X-Force Red and encouraged her to apply. “I’ve been talking to friends who go to other colleges, and the fact that we have professors who will reach out and say, ‘hey, here’s this cool internship opportunity,’ is important,” she said. “I think that’s what TU is good at, especially in the computer science department.”

Hale said he receives calls frequently from TU alumni at corporations such as Amazon, IBM or Google who are searching for qualified interns. Career fairs and class presentations from company representatives also lead to fruitful internships. According to Hale, placing a student on the path to a successful career can be as easy as matching an alumni member with a current student. “It’s the idea of imprinting,” he said. “That first internship, they bond with alumni whether it involves writing code, developing software, managing systems, or data science and analytics. Those interactions don’t happen as often at larger schools.”

Laser weapon control systems

Computer science junior Max Johnson of Silver Spring, Maryland, discovered his Naval Surface Warfare Center internship at a TU career fair. He was advised to apply to military bases across the country and obtained a position at a location in his home state. Through the Naval Research Enterprise Internship Program, Johnson spent 10 weeks with seven other members of the software development team developing U.S. laser weapon control systems. “We looked at the processes in place for reporting laser weapon control activity,” he said. “It was a mix of development and implementation, a lot of fixing bugs and adding new features to software.”

The Naval Surface Warfare Center was Johnson’s most technical and favorite internship so far, and the developers he worked with suggested he consider returning to the team in the future. Currently, he is applying to TU’s computer science accelerated program to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. Longer and Kvasnicka also are enrolled in the accelerated option to earn both degrees. “There’s so much to explore in computer science, and my classes offer ways to explore new topics. I wouldn’t mind developing for a few years,” Johnson said.

Longenberger and Kvasnicka also agree interning in a competitive industry environment is enticing for the careers that await. “I’d say it was a 10 out of 10 for my internship experience,” Kvasnicka said. “Now that I’ve seen a little more of the real world, I’m excited for what the future holds.” 

Veteran, TU alumnus builds cyber career in Tulsa

Nathan Singleton (BS ’08, MS ’10) has blazed his own trail to success first as a veteran, then a University of Tulsa student and now as a cybersecurity professional. He was the first full-time cybersecurity employee at a Tulsa-based drilling and technology company. Starting with zero budget and staff almost five years ago, Singleton has developed a ten-member cybersecurity team with a multi-million-dollar budget. “We get to interface with all levels of the organization, from the guys on the rigs to those in the mailroom and up to the executive leadership team,” he said.

Learn more about TU’s undergraduate degree options in computer science or graduate programs in cybersecurity.

nathan singletonHis ability to think independently and relate to different fields outside of the cybersecurity discipline are skills he developed as an undergraduate and graduate student at TU. In the ever-changing environment of digital security, Singleton said professionals must be open to continuous learning and different ideas. “There are a lot of bad actors out there that are spending as much money or more than we are in the industry to figure out new ways to get beyond our security measures and protocols,” he said.

“Cybersecurity is always marching forward. It is very fast-paced and going through an education program that is set up in a very similar manner helps prepare you for that.”

Attending TU as a veteran

Originally from Houston, Singleton attended high school in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and joined the military after graduation. He worked 10 years as an electronics technician on submarines in the U.S. Navy, and as his time on active duty drew to a close, he visited Tulsa where a friend told him about TU. He discovered the opportunities that awaited him if he pursued a computer science degree with a focus on cybersecurity. After studying a couple of semesters at Tulsa Community College, Singleton enrolled at TU as a 28-year-old transfer student. Key staff members in the TU Veterans Student Success Center, such as Cindy Watts, helped him coordinate his Department of Veteran’s Affair Vocational Rehabilitation funding. His seamless transition to a four-year university was enhanced by fellow student veterans on campus from all branches of the military.

“It’s a very welcoming vet-friendly environment, and those are relationships that are probably going to carry me through the rest of my life,” Singleton said.

He immediately got involved in research, publishing papers, representing the university at conferences in Japan and Poland and completing internships with local businesses and federal agencies. “My overall experience was amazing,” Singleton said. “I think research at such an early stage of my educational career was what drove me further and further. Because I was former military and because I was older, I had the opportunity to lead research projects that prepared me to manage a cybersecurity department at a multi-national company.”

From grad school to the government

Research, internships, direct interaction with professors and the tight-knit dynamic of TU’s computer science and cybersecurity programs convinced Singleton he’d made the right college decision. Following his bachelor’s degree, he stayed at TU and earned a master’s in computer science, which opened up a whole new world of cyber scenarios and research leadership opportunities. TU’s reputation as a cyber education center set him on track with a career at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Southwest Power Administration where hydroelectric power from U.S. Army Corps of Engineer dams is linked to preference customers in cooperatives and military bases. As the security program manager, Singleton was responsible for the protection and security of the agency’s dams and infrastructure in four states as well as other facilities, substations and power lines that interface directly with the U.S. Army. He rebuilt the physical security program to respond to floods, natural disasters and pandemics. Singleton also oversaw counterintelligence and counterterrorism projects and eventually led the agency’s cybersecurity team.

Finding opportunity in Tulsa

Three years later, he began to look for a new challenge and was contacted by H&P in Tulsa. He has developed the company’s cybersecurity team from the ground up and manages all incident response activities and system reviews. The department’s roles also have expanded to providing security awareness and training, governance, risk analysis and compliance.

“TU taught me how to think outside the box, solve problems and succeed in the government and at H&P,” he said.

After his work experience in the government, he had planned to look for jobs in Washington, D.C., on the West Coast or overseas, but family ties and the prospect of entrepreneurial cyber growth pulled him back to Tulsa. He believes that with more investment from local organizations interested in building out the city’s cyber infrastructure and capabilities, companies will find Tulsa an inviting city with a low cost of living. “As the word spreads and more opportunities arise here in Tulsa, I think we’ll see how it’s a great location for a startup,” Singleton said. “It’s about attracting the minds, giving them what they need to make that initial, first shaky step and then watching them launch.”

 

 

 

TU’s Conner Bender awarded Truman Scholarship for public service

University of Tulsa computer science senior Conner Bender has received the honorable Truman Scholarship, the premier graduate fellowship in the United States for those pursuing careers in public service leadership. The scholarship, awarded in 2019 to 62 students from 58 institutions nationwide, is the hallmark of the Truman Foundation, the nation’s official living memorial to the 33rd U.S. President Harry S. Truman. Bender will receive a maximum of $30,000 for graduate study.

conner bender
Bender with Jim Sorem, dean of the College of Engineering and Natural Sciences

Originally from Jenks, Bender is double majoring in computer science and mathematics, while earning his master’s degree in cyber operations. He will graduate with his bachelor’s degrees in May 2019 and continue his graduate degree at TU next fall. He serves as TU’s student body president, an ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees, president of Future Alumni Council, and founding president of the Rotaract Club. Bender is a Presidential Scholar, Stanford University Innovation Fellow, orientation leader, university ambassador, triathlete and marathon runner-up.

Bender used his computer science skills to establish a meal swipe donation program and was awarded the prestigious TU Medicine Wheel Award for Community Service. He is a two-time teaching assistant for the TU President Gerard Clancy and one of 10 U.S. undergraduates selected for a Fulbright Summer Institute in Scotland. Bender was named 2019 Greek Man of the Year and has held several internships and research positions with the U.S. government. He created a free iPad app that enhances word association and motor skills for people with disabilities and at Harvard, helped develop an emotion-based text reading application for Android users who are blind or visually impaired.

Bender is a local nonprofit board member, a cappella singer in Phi Mu Alpha, ministry team member for Reformed University Fellowship and was selected to lobby for the Fraternal Governmental Relations Coalition. He also serves as the Philanthropy Committee undergraduate representative, ritual peer for the Sigma Chi International Fraternity and vice president of TU’s chapter of Sigma Chi. Bender is a member of the Diversity Action Committee, Foundation of Excellence Committee, University Council and Student Conduct Board. He also is a notary public and is in the process of obtaining his private pilot license.

This year’s Truman Scholars were selected from 840 candidates nominated by 346 colleges and universities — the largest and one of the most competitive application pools in Truman Scholar history. Finalists were chosen by 16 independent selection panels based on their academic success and leadership accomplishments, as well as their likelihood of becoming public service leaders.