Cyber Warrior Comes to SMU

Fred Chang, a former NSA research director, will head a cybersecurity program that will include social sciences, business and law. “SMU understands that cybersecurity requires an interdisciplinary approach,” he says.

Southern Methodist University wants to become an international hub for cybersecurity and has hired a leading authority in the field as its linchpin.

Fred Chang, a former research director of the National Security Agency, will head a new cybersecurity program that will go beyond technology into social sciences, business and law.

“SMU understands that cybersecurity requires an interdisciplinary approach. I embody that,” says Chang, who holds an undergraduate degree in experimental psychology and a doctorate in cognitive psychology with a minor in computer science.

So he’s a nerd with a human bent?

“Yes,” says the 58-year-old native Californian. “That describes me pretty well.”

Chang, who’s battled cybercrime for 15 years as a business executive and academician, says even the most sophisticated defense system can be circumvented by a purloined password or information.

Early in the Internet life cycle, Chang realized the importance of security. Internet networks, built for collaboration and sharing among academics and government researchers, didn’t consider the potential for cybercrime and terrorism.

“It was watching a train wreck in slow motion,” he says.

“People talk about the weakest link as the human. In many cases, it is,” he says. “There are all sorts of policy, social science and economic issues that make cybersecurity problems extremely difficult to solve.”

That’s why the interdisciplinary approach is so important to him.

At SMU, Chang will have dual academic citizenship. As of this week, he’s the endowed chair in cybersecurity. Beginning in the spring, he will teach computer science in the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering. As a senior fellow in the Tower Center for Political Studies in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, he will study such issues as how laws and corporate policies can keep up with technology that changes by the nanosecond.

“There’s this terrific chemistry on campus,” Chang says. “To have this interdisciplinary notion work means that people have to play well together on campus. SMU has that.”

Bobby Lyle funds

President R. Gerald Turner says that under Chang’s leadership, SMU will develop a cyber research institute that will be housed in either Caruth Hall or the Embrey Building of the engineering school.

Eight professors, half of SMU’s computer science faculty, will be devoted to cybersecurity.

The initiative is being funded by a $3.5 million allocation from Bobby Lyle’s commitment that got his name on the engineering school in 2008. Although the university has never disclosed how much Lyle promised, it is estimated to be in the $20-plus-million range and is contingent on his approval of how the funds will be used.

Of that, $2.5 million will be used for the endowed faculty position and $1 million will help get research cranked up when Chang comes on board full time in the spring.

Until then, Chang is splitting his time between SMU and the University of Texas at Austin, where he’s an adjunct professor in cybersecurity strategy and policy.

SMU’s engineering school began to concentrate on cybersecurity seven years ago, says Lyle School Dean Marc Christensen, who aggressively recruited Chang for the last year.

When Christensen approached Lyle about spending $3.5 million on cybersecurity, the dean says the school’s leading benefactor wanted to know just one thing: Would it take SMU closer to becoming a world-class engineering school?

Lyle liked what he heard.

“We were already beginning to build a reputation in this field,” Lyle says. “Adding Fred Chang to our faculty will enable us to take our program to a whole new level.”


Chang was a senior executive at SBC Communications (now AT&T) and has taught at UT-Austin and UT-San Antonio.

In 2005, he moved to Maryland, where he spent a year as research director of the NSA, one of nation’s largest intelligence organizations.

He was most recently president and chief operating officer of 21CT Inc., an advanced intelligence analytics company in Austin.

“I’ve always been fascinated with grand challenges: Big problems in science or technology that captivate people. I was captivated by such things as, ‘Would it be possible to write a computer program that could beat the best human chess player?’” Chang says in a conference room of the Perkins Administration Building. “In 1997, there really was that chess program that could beat Garry Kasparov. That was a big deal.”

There are thousands of cybersecurity jobs awaiting qualified graduates.

Chang served on the Commission on Cybersecurity for the 44th Presidency, a bipartisan committee formed in 2007 to advise the next president.

The blue-ribbon panel found that the nation needed 25,000 people who could stop the most sophisticated types of cyberattacks but had only about 1,000 with those capabilities.

Chang wants to build a program that will produce that level of talent.

“To whatever extent SMU is able to help close that skills gap would be terrific,” he says. “These students will have many job offers. But I hope there’s a larger mission where they basically want to stop bad guys.”

Last year, the University of Texas at Dallas announced plans for a center of excellence for cybersecurity that would involve math, technology, sciences, business and social sciences. It cited similar concerns about national security and opportunities for graduates.

Jonathan Shapiro, who heads up business development for UTD, sees only positives in SMU’s initiative.

“The skill sets are so rare. There are probably 5,000 [cybersecurity] jobs open right now in North Texas,” Shapiro says. “Anything the two universities can do to collaborate on the technology and improving the workforce skill is going to be a big benefit to the region.”

Chang says he had a number of options for the next phase of his career but chose SMU because he’s convinced that the administrative brass is committed to making it a priority.

“SMU doesn’t have 50,000 students and thousands of faculty members,” he says. “They’ve made the assessment that cybersecurity is an area where they want to achieve excellence. It’s a surgical choice.

“This is extremely exciting to me. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing.”

Fred Chang

Age: 58

Titles: Bobby B. Lyle Endowed Centennial Distinguished Chair in Cyber Security and computer science professor, Lyle School of Engineering; senior fellow, John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences

Born: San Francisco, grew up in Marin County, Calif.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, experimental psychology, University of California, San Diego, 1977; doctorate in cognitive psychology with doctoral minor in computer science, University of Oregon, 1981.

Prior job: President and chief operating officer, 21CT Inc., an advanced intelligence analytics company; previously held executive positions at SBC Communications; director of research, National Security Agency, 2005-06.

Academic past: Administrative and faculty positions, University Texas at Austin and University of Texas at San Antonio.

Personal: Married with a daughter who recently graduated from Princeton University and a son who is a junior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

To see full article feature click here.