ATLANTA — The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded Georgia State’s Evidence-Based Cybersecurity Research Group (EBCS) nearly $300,000 for a pilot program to teach students advanced cybersecurity research skills and match them with chief information security officers (CISOs) to improve organizations’ security through testing tools.

Sixty students from throughout the Southeast will train in the Evidence-based Cybersecurity Training and Mentorship Program for Students in groups of 30 over two summers. The training is free to the students, who will also receive cost-of-living stipends.

EBCS director David Maimon leads the academic side of the program with Georgia State faculty Robert Harrison, Richard Baskerville, and Yubao Wu. Mentors will include members of the EBCS advisory board, made up of government, academia, and business CISOs.

“The idea is to work closely with these CISOs, our law enforcement partners, and others to produce a better, evidence-based science and employees who move the cybersecurity industry several steps forward,” Maimon said. “We will provide a supply of highly effective cybersecurity and law enforcement researchers.”

Flavio Villanustre, vice president of technology and CISO for LexisNexis Risk Solutions in Atlanta, is an adviser.

“The cybersecurity threat landscape has grown in complexity,” he said. “Software and system vulnerability advisory releases now count in the thousands every month. Attackers have increased in number, are better organized, and have grown more resourceful and sophisticated over the past several years.

“Organizations see an ever-increasing talent and skills gap as they try to fill the roles among their defense lines, whether in security operations centers, information security engineering, blue teams, red teams, or purple teams. Individuals, on the other hand, find it challenging to enter a field that has become so enormously complex and so rapidly changing that it represents a very steep learning curve.”

The industry will benefit when companies hire these students and apply the evidence-based cybersecurity research approach to their work, according to Maimon.

“EBCS is all about that — what works within that context,” he said. “Once we teach our students to test the effectiveness of cybersecurity tools using rigorous science, and the industry adopts and implements this approach, we will consider this program a huge success.”

EBCS has begun recruiting mentors and will begin its student recruitment campaign in the fall.

“Georgia State, through this program, is one of the few institutions in the nation laser-focused on teaching evidence-based research to show which cybersecurity tools truly work,” Villanustre said. “It will effectively address prevalent skills gaps and, at the same time, provide opportunities for meaningful and successful careers in core roles that protect people and organizations from criminals around the world.”