BATON ROUGE: LSU’s Transformational Technology and Cyber Research Center has attracted nearly $5 million in strategic research projects to enhance security for military, electric grid, homeland security and other applications, with state leaders anticipating a significant increase in future research investments from federal and private sources.
Conceived in 2014, TTCRC fuses the research capacity of LSU with state funding support to create a technology powerhouse focused on a primary goal: cybersecurity. Current research ranges from missile defense security, to protecting the electric grid from cyberattacks, to comprehensive visualization software for protecting U.S. borders and the ring of Caribbean Sea nations.
Louisiana Economic Development is a strategic funding partner. Through LED, the State of Louisiana is funding TTCRC research at a rate of $1 for each $10 in research funding attracted by the cyber center. At the same time, LSU is matching $0.50 for each $10 in research funding attracted. Those state matches continue until TTCRC reaches $30 million in applied research activity and continues on a self-sustaining basis.
Major grants attracted so far include the Caribbean security initiative for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. That project will provide law enforcement and homeland security professionals with layers of visual data on a common screen, intelligence that can be accessed quickly to gauge and investigate threats. For the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, the LSU center is devising a virtual test bed to detect cyberattacks on the electric grid through remote entry points, such as smart meters.
Significantly, Radiance Technologies – a U.S. Department of Defense prime contractor based in Huntsville, Alabama – has established an LSU office as it carries out cybersecurity defense projects. Both the TTCRC and Radiance Technologies operations are housed within the Louisiana Emerging Technology Center on LSU’s main campus. Collectively, they employ 16 research and support professionals, with plans for more job creation as research activity intensifies.
“The Transformational Technology and Cyber Research Center at LSU demonstrates what we can accomplish when we capitalize on our brainpower, our research capacity and our desire to make a difference in today’s world,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said. “What’s particularly exciting about TTCRC’s potential is that we are touching many lives for the better by working with the federal military complex, our own Louisiana National Guard on homeland security, and the private sector on technology solutions that can protect the marketplace.”
TTCRC’s collaboration with the Louisiana National Guard and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness is producing a risk management system that will be at the forefront of efforts by states to plan for and respond to cyberattacks. At LSU, the Transformational Technology and Cyber Research Center is one of six institutes, including the Stephenson Disaster Management Institute, that make up the entirety of LSU’s applied research effort.
“As the state’s flagship university, LSU plays a vital role in providing the educational, scientific and technological solutions that will create the economy of the future,” LSU President F. King Alexander said. “Our interconnected world offers many challenges and opportunities.”
Jeff Moulton serves as executive director for the Stephenson National Center for Security Research and Training – the umbrella organization for LSU’s six institutes of applied research – and he specifically leads the TTCRC effort. TTCRC projects focus on “seam vulnerabilities,” potential cracks in cyberspace that could allow hackers to damage the electronic underpinnings of today’s technology world.
Positioning the cyber center so that it could work with federal agencies on cybersecurity projects was not a simple task. LSU needed to create a contracting authority, the Nascent Technology Corp., which is owned by the university and empowered to contract with federal agencies on research projects. While accomplishing that major step, Moulton also secured facility clearance from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management so that TTCRC and its partners can engage in projects involving national security.
From energy to aerospace, “Louisiana has many pockets of influence, and like unorganized music notes on a stanza, you don’t get music unless they’re organized correctly,” Moulton said, describing the concept behind TTCRC. “If we could just rearrange our notes in the right way, Louisiana could be a powerhouse in cybersecurity.”
That process now is underway, said Moulton, whom LSU and LED recruited from the Georgia Tech Research Institute, where he oversaw a portfolio of over $300 million in research projects as director of program development. The special focus on cybersecurity-related research at LSU harnesses one of the research world’s hottest topics.
LED technology project wins in recent years – CenturyLink, GE, IBM, CSRA, CGI and others – are focused on that same cybersecurity topic. IT and software-related jobs rank as Louisiana’s fastest-growing employment sector.
“LED and LSU had the vision to do something different,” Moulton said. “They wanted to bring in more IT jobs and get plugged into cybersecurity. They had the vision to realize this was a growing area. Everything is cyber now, because a digital disaster is local problem; and like any other disaster, cyberattacks are a personal, local thing.”
Stakes are even higher for military defense systems, which require precision and secure execution to maintain the safety of U.S. Armed Forces missions and the lives of those they protect. Radiance Technologies performs cybersecurity work in the defense sector and has operated a satellite office at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston for more than a decade prior to its TTCRC partnership in Baton Rouge.
“We’ve had a great experience and partnership with the professors and staff at Louisiana Tech,” said Assistant Vice President Heath Berry of Radiance Technologies. “LSU is also a top-tier university, and the TTCRC provides strong research capabilities that assist in our long-term, strategic goals for my group and the company. I work in the Cyber Solutions Group at Radiance, so most of the projects we pursue will be in that area and open the door for many different paths of collaboration.”
Moulton and the TTCRC are targeting $30 million in applied research activity at the LSU cyber center by 2018. While extensive basic research at LSU will continue to fulfill the university’s core academic mission, the growth of applied research through TTCRC and the Stephenson National Center for Security Research and Training will accomplish another mission – that of connecting university research to critical government and industry solutions.
In the cybersecurity realm, it’s a mission that will evolve at the speed of research.
“Our IT assets are not static,” Moulton said. “They’re changing continually, 24/7.”