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NSA and Carnegie Mellon University: Partnering on Cybersecurity Research for 20+ Years

By Besty Stein, NSA Communications NSA

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Carnegie Mellon University
2008 Fall Campus Photography 2014
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University
2008 Fall Campus Photography 2014
Photo By: Ken Andreyo - Carnegie Mellon University
VIRIN: 200313-D-IM742-2001
From creating more resilient facial recognition algorithms to studying the trustworthiness of artificial intelligence, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) and NSA have been collaborating on cybersecurity research for more than two decades. 

“Our research collaboration is strong, with CMU hosting one of the original NSA Science of Security Lablets,” said NSA Deputy Director George Barnes. “The university has been instrumental in stimulating basic research to create scientific underpinnings for security and advocating for scientific rigor in security research.”

Given this lengthy partnership, NSA has named CMU a Featured School – and will be highlighting the collaboration on NSA.gov, IntelligenceCareers.gov, and on social media beginning 26 March 2020. 

“Carnegie Mellon has a long history of excellence in cybersecurity research and education, and we are honored to be selected as an NSA Featured School,” said CMU President Farnam Jahanian. “CMU’s programs in cybersecurity are led by internationally renowned experts who are inspiring and training the next generation of cyber-professionals and enhancing our national security and defense.”

CMU is one of only 11 colleges and universities that has been designated as a Center of Academic Excellence (CAE) in all three focus areas – Cyber Defense (CD), Cyber Operations (CO), and Research (R). The CAE programs promote higher education and research in the critical area of cybersecurity. NSA sponsors the CAE-CO program, and NSA and the Department of Homeland Security jointly sponsor the CAE-CD and R programs. 

“These designations were just a matter of getting the stamp of approval that our program aligns with what the government needs,” explained Dena Haritos Tsamitis, Director of CMU’s Information Networking Institute. “It is important that our work be relevant – what is needed by the government as well as private industry. We want our students to be relevant to the field and be contributors when they come out.”  

Since 2011, CMU has hosted one of the six NSA-funded Science of Security and Privacy (SoS) Lablets, which work on ensuring that activities in cybersecurity can be backed by scientific knowledge. CMU is currently conducting research projects that focus on understanding human behavior and developing methods to assemble secure systems. One project focuses on how easily facial recognition algorithms can be tricked, and another is studying how users make personal cybersecurity decisions.

“Our research relationship with CMU goes back more than 20 years,” said Brad Martin, a Subject Matter Expert in NSA’s Research division and founder of the SoS initiative. “As the technical research has deepened, so has the trust between the researchers and our two institutions, which positioned CMU to be designated as an NSA SoS Lablet.”

NSA has sent at least three full-time liaisons to work at CMU in the past five years, with one currently working out of the Software Engineering Institute, a Federally Funded Research and Development Center at CMU. Several leaders from CMU have also spent time working in Research at NSA. 

In the last five years, NSA has awarded CMU more than 12 grants for scholarships and research totaling $2.1 million. CMU has sent 46 students with Scholarship for Service grants from the National Science Foundation to work at NSA since 2001, and currently, more than 80 CMU graduates work at NSA. 
Carnegie Mellon University
Campus in September 2011 2014
Carnegie Mellon University
Carnegie Mellon University
Campus in September 2011 2014
Photo By: Ken Andreyo/Carnegie Mellon Univ
VIRIN: 200313-D-IM742-2002


“The relationship is deep and productive for both CMU and NSA,” said Kathy Hutson, Senior Strategist for Academic Engagement at NSA. “We love to feature these schools that are helping to provide the tools and talent we need to protect our nation.”

The Featured School Series highlights schools designated as CAEs that have a depth and breadth of engagement with the Agency. To learn more about the Featured School Series and schools previously highlighted, visit NSA.gov.

(U) To learn more about CMU, visit the CMU website