MET's Cybersecurity Experts Discuss New Digital Evidence Grant from the Department of Justice

15 Jul 2020

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Dr. Lou Chitkushev and Cybercrime Investigation & Cybersecurity Director Dr. Kyung-shick Choi Discuss MET’s History and Future as a Nationally Valued Security Hub after New Digital Evidence Grant from Department of Justice

Dr. Lou Chitkushev
Dr. Kyung-shick Choi

Dr. Lou Chitkushev
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs; Associate Professor, Computer Science; Director, Health Informatics and Health Sciences; Associate Director for Academic Programs and Industry Relations, BU Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cybersecurity
PhD, Boston University; MS, Medical College of Virginia; MS, BS, University of Belgrade

Dr. Kyung-shick Choi
Director, Cybercrime and Cybersecurity
PhD, Indiana University of Pennsylvania; MS, Boston University; BS, Northeastern University

Congratulations on receiving a grant from the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance! What can you tell us about the grant, and how you came to receive it? Why was this grant program such a fit for not only MET’s Criminal Justice program, but also the Computer Science program, with Dr. Lou Chitkushev serving as principal investigator?
Dr. Kyung-shick Choi: As a cybercriminologist, I regularly monitor government research projects. So last April, when the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) released a competitive grant solicitation for a “Student Computer Forensics and Digital Evidence Educational Opportunities Program,” I took note.

I believed we at BU MET would be a strong candidate, as our Cybercrime Investigation and Cybersecurity (CIC) Programs focus on the cybercrime investigation skillset needs of federal, state, local, and territorial public safety and law enforcement. The Department of Justice (DOJ) grant is largely rooted in digital forensic investigation, which I thought really kind of gave us a great chance to win. Few competitors take the interdisciplinary approach we do at MET. Other universities focus more narrowly on technical areas—like computer science, or computer engineering—not the traditional elements of a criminal justice education. And with cybercrime investigation, I would say the whole field is interdisciplinary.

I think there's difficulty in developing very solid, foundational computer science skills and mixing them with legal investigation skills, all together, as well as we do. And since I do a lot of work with field officers and on federal projects, I know what professionals expect in the field.

Dr. Lou Chitkushev: What really made a strong case for us is that MET’s Department of Computer Science has been a leader in information security since 2004, when Dean Tanya Zlateva, then chair of the MET CS department, and department colleagues worked in collaboration with BU’s College of Arts and Sciences and School of Management (now Questrom School of Business) to launch the BU Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cyber Security (RISCS), dedicated to promoting research in system reliability and information security.

That 2004 effort led to our information assurance curriculum being certified by the Committee on National Security Systems and in 2008, BU was designated as National Center for Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Research by the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security.

This happened in 2004, so we're talking 16 years ago. And since then, we’ve maintained these relationships and commitments. After that, when I served as chair of the computer science department, we introduced our Digital Forensics programs—which encompass the graduate certificate and also the degree concentration in Cybersecurity in both the Master of Science in Computer Science and Master of Science in Computer Information Systems programs. This was very unique, as it was done both in face-to-face on-campus and hybrid online formats.

Criminal Justice’s standing as BU’s first fully online master’s degree program, introduced in 2002, proved to be an important key, because MET was technologically well-equipped to offer education in both online and on-campus modes, which we found was essential for the grant. So, it's no accident that we were strong and ultimately successful candidates for this grant—it was a process that I would say we as a college spent almost two decades working towards.

When Dr. Choi approached me and we decided to move forward, we realized it would be a good idea to propose it with two co-principal investigators and to work this as a joint effort between computer science and criminal justice, which was the winning combination.

Dr. Choi: I saw this grant as a significant expansion opportunity for our existing program, as it adds a field-based, practical element to our current curricula. By working with cybercrime field experts currently operating within law enforcement agencies, students will have tremendous opportunities not only to learn how to do the work required of this field, but also to make connections that are bound to prove fruitful for future job prospects.

I’m proud to report that our BU MET CIC alums are already largely employed in the area of cybercrime investigation, in both private and government sectors. I strongly believe that this project will greatly enhance the quality of the CIC program and open even more opportunities for our students to work in the area of cybercrime investigation for assisting all levels of government agencies and private sectors.

This grant, as you indicated, is in support of the “Student Computer Forensics and Digital Evidence Educational Opportunities Program.” Could you please describe this initiative, its collaborative aspects, and its importance?
Dr. Choi: The current capabilities of many law enforcement agencies are, unfortunately, very limited. Most local and state law enforcement officers lack the expertise to process computer data and related evidence, putting their departments at a disadvantage. Rapid developments in technology allow computer criminals to conceal their identities through various means, often making it very difficult to identify suspects.

Broadly, the biggest challenge cybercrime investigation faces is a lack of qualified human resources. According to the Department of Justice’s 2011 Annual Report for the FBI’s Regional Computer Forensic Laboratories (RCFL) program, it is estimated that there is only one officer who has attended a RCFL-sponsored cyber training for every three major US law enforcement agencies. Considering the exponential increase in the number of cybercrime cases we are seeing overall, nationally and globally, the assistance provided by the FBI is still much too limited. The Manhattan district attorney’s office, for example, estimates that more than twenty-five percent of their annual cases relate to digital evidence.

Cybercrime is in need of an infusion of law enforcement officers trained in both cybercriminal behavior and information technologies. This preparation for the future of cyber-disruptors is not yet commonplace throughout the US. This BJA-backed project will help us build more specialized educational programs in computer forensics and digital evidence that reflect the needs of law enforcement agencies.

In order to satisfy the requirements of this grant (and to help meet the need for investigators), we needed to partner with another institution. We decided to work with Utica College in New York because they're well-known in cybersecurity and digital forensics. They have wonderful labs, equipment, and law enforcement agency partnerships. They complement us very well, as they are focused on undergraduate programs, while we specialize in graduate programs. Working together felt like a perfect combination.

As the primary investigator we are leading the program, and will work in partnership with Utica College. This corroborative approach will enhance the program’s development and implementation.

Dr. Chitkushev: The grant is dedicated to evaluating and coming up with the optimal curriculum for cybercrime investigation, both online and face-to-face. We will gather input from federal and local law agencies, and use that to improve the curriculum to serve the industry. Our goal is to refine the program to the needs of current and future law enforcement officers, so that there can be experts everywhere. Basically, it is an effort to set academic standards around digital investigation, at both undergraduate and graduate levels.

How will this program be introduced at MET? Will it differ from the current Cybercrime Investigation & Cybersecurity curriculum?
Dr. Choi: We recently began our efforts by holding our first focus group meeting of cybercrime experts, with 15 representatives of local, state, and federal cybercrime agencies in attendance. Our plan is to modify elements of our current program by incorporating their insights. Ultimately, what we design will be developed in collaboration with the BJA after the focus group’s final recommendations are implemented, enhancing our already strong current curriculum.

Who is eligible to enroll in the “Student Computer Forensics and Digital Evidence Educational Opportunities Program?” Are there special requirements for graduate students? Is there a unique application process? 
Dr. Choi: In order to be admitted to this program, students will be required to be US citizens who hold a bachelor’s degree. While no particular degree major is required, students who majored in criminal justice, computer science, or cybersecurity, or who otherwise possess strong computer skills, will be strongly considered. All other admissions requirements remain the same as they are for our CIC graduate program, and candidates will be selected from the pool of recent CIC program applicants.

What makes this BJA-supported program stand out? Is there a particular benefit for students?
Dr. Choi: We definitely want to create optimal curricula. That's one thing. The second thing is we really hope to foster strong internship opportunities for our students. And since we will be bringing a good number of agencies working together, our students can expect to be familiar with both the work and working opportunities after the completion of our program here. Fully developed internship programs in the classic sense will be developed later on, but right now what we know is that we will be partnering with key stakeholders who can really assist us to help develop important educational content, and connect people with prospective future employers.

Credentials matter, so students who successfully complete the DOJ/BJA pilot program will receive a special, government-backed certificate recognizing their significant contribution. Additionally, we plan to create a “cybercrime expert steering committee,” to assist not only in refining the curricula but also to assist our students in their search for potential internships, co-op opportunities, and government jobs in the area of computer forensics and cybercrime investigation.

We plan on maintaining the program after the grant period concludes, and to launch a website to promote the program while seeking to introduce internships, co-ops, and other job opportunities.

MET has had a distinguished record with information security programs, and was instrumental in BU’s designation as a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education and Research. How have MET’s programs in cybersecurity evolved to keep ahead of huge and rapid changes in cybercrime?
Dr. Chitkushev: With us, this new digital investigation opportunity fits in with a long tradition. In 2004, it was Dean Tanya Zlateva who had the vision to lead the founding of the RISCS, giving Boston University its footing in data and cybersecurity. She was, at the time, chair of the Metropolitan College Department of Computer Science, and her interdisciplinary expertise made her a logical choice to lead as the RISCS center’s founding director, while I became the associate director for academic programs and industry relations. Today, the RISCS center is directed by Professor Ran Canetti, and Dean Zlateva serves as the RISCS director for Education. The Center draws on the expertise of 22 faculty and over 100 graduate students from the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Engineering, and Questrom School of Business. But it was MET computer science that 15 years ago first led the integration of all these information security and assurance efforts at BU.

At the same time, Dr. Choi has worked on establishing the CIC program here at Boston University for decades. So, the work our students and faculty will do in digital forensics and investigation thanks to this BJA grant is the perfect way to build on our legacy in security.

This project is bigger than updating a program at a college. Consider the bigger context—there is a fundamental lack of collaboration between enforcement agencies and academia in general. We simply don't get enough experts in this field. It's very competitive globally, and the United States is not competitive enough. We don't have enough experts, compared to the other countries who have government-organized teams working on cyberattacks, cybersecurity, and cyber-hacking. So, it's of great importance that we in the US develop this expertise. That was also the motivation in 2004, when RISCS was founded, when the Department of Homeland Security wanted to integrate with universities and create centers for information security education and research, to encourage universities and students to focus on graduating more experts in the field.

In the globally connected world, cyber-warfare and cyberterrorism have become reality, so we need more graduates who have a solid background in cybersecurity, excellent understanding of cyber-technology, and the appropriate amount of hands-on experience with its implementation. Results of our DOJ-supported research study should provide insight and guidance on how that goal can be achieved in the most efficient and scalable way, and in coordination with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

Center for Cybercrime Investigation
and Cybersecurity

Director : Kyung-Shick Choi
Main Office : 46 Warren Ave, Milton, MA 02186

Training Center : 1010 Commonwealth Ave. Room 515 Boston, Massachusetts 02215

TEL :  617-358-2807  |  FAX : 617-358-3595

Copyright 2018 Center for CIC | Resource Guide for Global Cybersecurity Research & Training | All Rights Reserved |
Privacy at Center for CIC


Center for Cybercrime Investigation and Cybersecurity

Director : Kyung-Shick Choi  |  Main Office : 46 Warren Ave, Milton, MA 02186
Training Center : 1010 Commonwealth Ave. Room 515 Boston, Massachusetts 02215

TEL :  617-358-2807  |  FAX : 617-358-3595  |  EMAIL :

Copyright 2018 Center for CIC  | Resource Guide for Global Cybersecurity Research & Training | All Rights Reserved
Privacy at Center for CIC