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CCI Fellows

2023 - 2024 CCI Fellows - right_white text_white background

The Commonwealth Cyber Initiative has funded six Virginia research leaders from four universities to pursue multimillion-dollar cybersecurity-related centers, addressing pressing challenges ranging from space communications to intelligent ambient computing. 

“With 42 Virginia universities and colleges in the CCI network, the state has an abundance of talented researchers,” said Luiz DaSilva, CCI executive director.

“CCI brings together the breadth and depth of expertise needed to be competitive for large-scale projects. I am excited about these proposed projects and how they will advance the cybersecurity field and create new opportunities for our students and industry.” 

The CCI Fellows program gives top researchers the support to pursue substantial centers. The 2023 CCI Fellows cohort are from:

  • George Mason University
  • University of Virginia
  • Virginia Military Institute
  • Virginia Tech

Learn more about the CCI Fellows and their projects.

Azab is leading a project in collaboration with Virginia Tech and targeting the National Science Foundation Smart and Connected Communities Program. The proposal builds on a CCI-funded project and will address challenges in the civil infrastructure and environmental quality, learning environments, and workforce development domains. 

"This project is very special as we aim to seek funding to support a national-level cyber security-aware workforce development process for smart connected communities' critical infrastructure,” Azab said. 

“The recent attacks on mission-critical infrastructure applications, which are usually the base for any smart connected community, showed the desperate need for cybersecurity hands-on skill development. For that, we aim to employ our recent cutting-edge education and training tools like extended and virtual reality to build a training platform that supports remote and in-person interactions with a fully immersive representation of mission-critical infrastructure applications.

“The goal is to build on top of such a platform, (creating) a community of workforce developers, and a place where the workforce can seek help when needed. With the successful model that we built in our former CCI-sponsored grant, we noticed the value of having a pipeline of students and trainers where young students, trained by senior students, acquire advanced experience from their interaction with other senior students,” Azab said. 

“That level of continuous exchange of information and mentorship, when managed right, helps create a long-lasting community of educators and an experienced, aware workforce.”

Black os also Director of the Aerospace and Ocean Systems Laboratory of the Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology, Co-Director of the Center for Space Science and Engineering Research (Space@VT), and the Northrop Grumman Senior Faculty Fellow in C4ISR.  

Black is leading a proposal with Virginia Tech and Virginia Military Institute researchers to pursue National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center (ERC) funding to establish a Center for Secure Space Communications. The center will address emerging challenges related to the rapidly growing demand for more capable satellite network infrastructure. The need for such a center emerged recently; no existing ERC is situated in this area, Black noted. 

“CCI has a great model for student engagement, which really suits the research I do, and provides unique hands-on space and hands-on cyber experiences,” Black said. “These experiential research programs are also excellent tools for engaging industry, which we have leveraged on this program. Our vision is to propose extending this model to a federal center, which we will propose with the support of the CCI Fellow program.”

Returning Fellow Jack Davidson is a professor of computer science in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and director of the Cyber Defense program of study at the University of Virginia.

Davidson is well known for leading top projects, including the $3 million Virginia Cyber Navigator Program, which provides students with internships to work with Virginia election registrars to assess and improve the security of critical infrastructure used in elections.

In collaboration with Virginia Tech and Old Dominion University, Davidson is leading a proposal to the NSF Community Infrastructure in Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CIRC) program. The project’s objective is to create a multi-campus data collection, curation, and sharing infrastructure for use by the NSF Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) community of cybersecurity and privacy researchers. 

A critical, novel, and distinguishing aspect of this infrastructure is that it provides the ability to carry out cyber-attack recreations within the operational networks. 

The infrastructure provides the ability to produce realistic, labeled (ground-truth) cybersecurity datasets. These datasets include network traffic collected at the gateways to the Internet backbone and various key locations within the enterprise networks. 

Further, end-point sensor data includes features such as process creation, memory usage, and more. The collected data provides realistic data sets with ground-truth labels to support cutting-edge, data-driven cybersecurity research.

“This federated infrastructure will be invaluable for developing new machine-learning algorithms for detecting zero-day attacks and large-scale attacks with complex kill chains,” Davidson said. 

Jonathan Goodall is a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Virginia (UVA) and Director of the UVA Engineering LINK LAB

Goodall is leading a proposal in collaboration with researchers from Old Dominion University and the College of William and Mary.

The vision for the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center proposal is to direct smart cities technology to improve climate resilience in coastal communities. More frequent and intense storm events, combined with sea level rise and so-called “nuisance flooding” that can occur multiple times per year, are placing increased stress on coastal communities. The smart cities revolution playing out in cities across  the globe can bring needed technology to these coastal communities in their efforts to increase their resilience.  

“I have been working on coastal resilience for the past five-plus years and believe addressing the challenge will require new technologies and approaches developed through deep, convergent collaborations among computer scientists, engineers, planners, and others,” Goodall said. “A center-level grant from the National Science Foundation would provide support for a cross-institutional and cross-disciplinary team to make progress on this pressing societal challenge.” 

Parth Pathak is an associate professor in the Computer Science Department at George Mason University. He is leading the proposal in collaboration with Mason and Virginia Tech researchers.

The proposal aims to develop a first-of-its-kind research platform called Open-Milli-IoT for investigating and developing mmWave IoTs. Open-Milli-IoT aims at jointly orchestrating and managing mmWave (millimeter Wave) communication and IoT devices through programmable and intelligent radio networks in the form of Open Radio Access Networks (O-RAN).

"Overall, what inspired us to pursue this project is two critically important yet outstanding problems,” Pathak said. One, how can we create IoT devices that can provide very high data rates while still being extremely power efficient? Two, how can such devices be controlled and managed in a systematic manner through their integration in existing networks? 

“Chasing the solution to the first question drove us to create backscattering IoT devices at millimeter-wave frequencies, which are central to 5G and beyond wireless networks. 

“The use of O-RAN provides the necessary flexibility, security, and programmability for orchestrating these devices under one unified architecture. mmWave backscatter IoTs will be essential in various low-power, high-speed applications such as metaverse, logistics, safety, health care, etc., and their integration in 5G&B (5G & Beyond) (5G & Beyond) networks through O-RAN will ensure low-cost deployments and operations, and better adoption of the technology.”

Aidong Zhang, Thomas M. Linville Professor of Computer Science at the University of Virginia, is leading the proposal in collaboration with Virginia Tech researchers.

Intelligent Ambient Computing in Dynamic Environments is aimed at the National Science Foundation’s Expeditions in Computing program. 

Similar to smartphones becoming integrated into our lives, ambient computing is expected to be commonplace, said Zhang, who also has joint appointments in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the School of Data Science at UVA. “In this scenario, users will continually and subconsciously interact with their surroundings, and devices will respond to human actions automatically, collectively, continuously, and smartly.”

Zhang added, “to realize ambient computing that works as we envision, we need the next-generation of computing systems to make decisions and predictions dynamically under the constraints of evolving environments, shifting goals, limited resources, and security, privacy, and safety constraints. 

“Meanwhile, the unprecedented scale and complexity of machine learning models and the sensing, computing, and communications infrastructures require new joint cross-layer designs spanning all levels of computing, from algorithms to systems to hardware. We propose to address these challenges in a framework we call Intelligent Ambient Computing.”