University News

Security Component Added to CS Program

April 21, 2008

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MACOMB, IL -- Computer security is a timely -- and essential -- topic in today's workplace, and Western Illinois University computer science students will learn the latest security concepts through new computer science curriculum funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant secured by two Western College of Business and Technology faculty members.

Binto George, computer science associate professor, and Anna Valeva, information systems and decision sciences assistant professor, were recently awarded a $147,549 NSF Course Curriculum and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) program grant for their project, "Incorporating Usable Security Concepts into Computer Science Curriculum."

According to George, who is the grant's principal investigator, the project is designed to improve the undergraduate computer science curriculum by incorporating usable privacy and security concepts.

"While the current computer security curriculum focuses on technological aspects, human factors are increasingly being exploited to defeat security, as evidenced by the alarming trend in phishing, pharming and similar attacks," George explained. "Although these attacks do not require very high technical skills, detection and prevention are often complex. The project will allow us to add new course materials and to develop hands-on exercises to deal with the detection and prevention."

Valeva, co-principal investigator, added that the project incorporates current research on usable security into existing undergraduate computer security courses. This eliminates the need for students to take an additional elective in an already packed undergraduate degree program.

"Since usability concepts are integrated into the security curriculum, students will consider usability as important as other aspects of computer security," Valeva said. "Exercises encourage students to analyze systems using a Three Perspective (3P) Learning Method, which
explores computer security simultaneously from offense, defense and usability perspectives."

The collaboration among professionals in computer security, human-computer interaction and decision sciences will help develop faculty expertise in interdisciplinary areas, and create new learning materials, George pointed out.

"The courses will support different learning styles, help develop a deeper understanding of the role of human factors in security, encourage critical thinking and help students invent better security techniques," he added.

"Dr. George has been doing research in the area of computer privacy and security for several years. However, teaching courses in this area has always been a challenge. Overcoming the students' previous perceptions and developing a solid pedagogical approach that is effective are two of the biggest challenges to address," said Kathleen Neumann, computer science department chair. "This award from NSF will allow Dr. George to explore ways to improve the students learning experience in this area. It is also a very timely topic given the current increased interest in improving data and communication privacy and security. This award will build on the department's foundation of academic excellence and will promote the intellectual growth of our students."

After external reviews, all materials will be made available through Western's website, the
National Science Digital Library (NSDL), Multimedia Educational Resource for Online Teaching and Learning (MERLOT) and other digital libraries, which will allow other institutions to adapt the information for their individual needs.

George noted that while this project has far-reaching effects, the biggest impact will be on Western's students who will obtain training for developing usable secure systems in the future, which will help reduce cybercrimes.

"Computer security and human-factors in information systems has long been recognized as an important area of research in the management information systems area," added Tej Kaul, information systems and decision sciences chair. "Because of the student-oriented focus of this grant we believe that the student-learning through the materials and methods developed with the help of this grant will go long ways in fulfilling a critical need and a void in the computer science and information systems and decision sciences curricula."

Posted By: Darcie Shinberger (
Office of University Communications & Marketing