LSU Cyber Program Adds Digital Forensics, Industrial Systems

Louisiana State University is gearing up to expand its cybersecurity programming to train participants to defend against large-scale attacks on enterprise and control systems.

According to a news release, a $350,000 grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents Cybersecurity Talent Initiative Fund and $100,000 from industry partners is contributing to the next stage of LSU’s FIREStarter program, an initiative established last year with the launch of a lab for cyber range exercises simulating real-time cyber attacks. The announcement said the new funding will go toward digital forensics and industrial control systems technologies, expanding the university’s cybersecurity course offerings, and future research on industrial control systems security.

LSU’s computer science professor Golden Richard III, principal investigator on the project and director of LSU’s Applied Cybersecurity Lab, said in a public statement that the new lab will be an entirely hands-on experience.

“We will be putting the same software and hardware components in the lab that digital forensics practitioners use on a day-to-day basis to work real cases. It’s our anticipation that every student in the cybersecurity concentration, plus any other interested computer science students [and possibly more from other disciplines], will have the opportunity to be exposed to state-of-the-art hardware and software tools for digital forensics and industrial control systems,” Richard said. “From the industrial control systems [side], we will have both equipment for teaching students the basics of programming PLCs, as well as small-scale ‘simulations’ of real industrial control systems, e.g., a water-treatment plant, power plant, etc. These are really cool and on roll-away carts, with the real hardware tucked inside. This means that you can formulate real attacks and defenses and see if they work.”

According to the announcement, the FIREStarter 2 funding comes shortly after LSU President William Tate IV launched LSU’s Scholarship First Agenda, which aims to bolster cybersecurity and cyber defense programming at the university in the years ahead. Richard said the goal of the FIREstarter 2 program is to develop homegrown IT talent in Louisiana.

“Louisiana is loaded with industrial control systems — chemical, petroleum, et al.,” he said in a public statement. “Teaching students to defend these systems, and ultimately creating a local workforce that can tackle this challenge, is practically a no-brainer if the resources are available to do it. And now they are. From a digital forensics standpoint, there are virtually no digital forensics firms left in Louisiana. All the practitioners have been slurped up by bigger firms. We’d like to change that and repopulate Louisiana with brilliant digital forensics practitioners.”

The announcement said Richard and Andrew Case, senior cybersecurity consultant in the LSU Applied Cybersecurity Lab, will soon represent the university at one of the largest IT security events later this year at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas, at which they’ll lead a presentation, “New Memory Forensics Techniques to Defeat Device Monitoring Malware.” In 2021, they delivered a presentation on “Fixing a Memory Forensics Blind Spot: Linux Kernel Tracing.”

“LSU’s applied cybersecurity program produces the best memory forensics research in the world,” Richard said in a statement. “That’s one of our primary strengths, and both Black Hat talks present(ed) cutting-edge memory forensics work aimed at detecting stealthy malware. Presenting at Black Hat provides amazing exposure for the program, as the conference is attended by thousands of cybersecurity professionals from academia, industry and government.”