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Tech Transfer Program Success Stories

Tech Transfer Success Stories | March 24, 2023

NSA and Minority Serving Institutions: Detecting Adversary Misinformation with Howard University

The National Security Agency (NSA) is working with two universities to research methods to detect adversary manipulation techniques, like Deepfakes and the spread of misinformation, with an emphasis on Russian adversarial tradecraft. The collaboration between NSA, Howard University, a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), and an additional university partner, is part of the Agency’s Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA).

Dr. Aaron Ferguson, the NSA sponsor for this project, said this partnership is an important step in being intentional and deliberate about diversity, equality, and inclusion, showing that NSA is making a commitment to ensure HBCUs are a part of the Agency’s research engagements. “This research partnership illuminated the research horsepower of an HBCU and paved the way for more, future NSA research partnerships that include HBCUs,” Dr. Ferguson said.

Karen Presley, the Deputy Director of NSA’s Office of Research and Technology Applications (ORTA), shared that ORTA started the MSI CRADA to increase the Agency’s engagement with a variety of MSIs, like HBCUs, creating partnerships focused on conducting research and development on topics like the Internet of Things (IoT), national cybersecurity posture and cyber analysis, and secure composition and system science.

According to Ms. Presley, universities that partner with the Agency under the MSI CRADA can begin projects in as soon as two weeks. “The establishment of the MSI CRADA gives universities the opportunity to engage in a streamlined way, which allows the Agency to partner with more MSI, allowing for greater exposure, and potentially increasing the recruitment pool,” she said.

Dr. Ferguson believes this project, and similar MSI CRADA efforts, help strengthen NSA’s hiring pipeline in a diverse way. He shared that this project brought together students that represented different fields of study, e.g., Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Supply Chain Management, Psychology, and Russian, helped them build a relationship with the Agency, and has led to conditional job offers to students.

The goal of this project was to detect adversary use of deepfakes (fabricated video and audio) and social media manipulation techniques. Throughout their research, students specifically looked at tens of thousands of domestic and international tweets containing Russian misinformation, focusing on automated misinformation detection and supply chain anomalies.

Dr. Ferguson explained that this partnership was relevant to research how adversaries are currently attempting to manipulate public perception. “Students and faculty at both universities had nascent curiosity about how the U.S. Intelligence Community was addressing adversary misinformation and media manipulation campaigns in the wake of the last presidential election,” he said.

The outcome of their research culminated in the development of a novel machine learning algorithm that combined human expertise and machine learning to identify tactical misinformation content. The discoveries from this project can be used for future developments to automatically aggregate data and help inform national security decision making.

The NSA ORTA technology transfer program establishes partnerships between industry, academia, and other government agencies to help accelerate mission, advance science, foster innovation, and promote the growth and commercialization of technology originally created for Agency mission.

Questions? Contact NSA’s Technology Transfer Program
Office of Research & Technology Applications, NSA Research Directorate |