SMU to open cyber security institute after receiving $7.5M donation

Fred Chang will lead the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security, which was the result of a $7.5 million donation from Darwin Deason.

On the heels of data breaches at retailers like Target and Dallas-based Neiman Marcus, Southern Methodist University professor Fred Chang is hoping a new institute he will lead will make an impact on cyber security issues facing Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas and the nation.

“Someone needs to make a big difference,” Chang said. “Why not have it be here in Dallas or at SMU?”

Chang will lead the university’s Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security, which will be part of the Lyle School of Engineering. The institute was a result of a $7.75 million gift from Darwin Deason, founder of Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc., geared toward financing the institute and supporting the school’s Deason Innovation Gym.

The donation provides a $5 million endowment and $1.25 million in operational funding for the institute and $1.5 million to support the innovation gym.

“Cyber security and cyber terrorism are perhaps the most critical security issues facing our nation and our corporations today,” said Marc Christensen, dean of the Lyle School. “The Darwin Deason Institute will bring together experts in law, international relations, public policy, national security, psychology, biology, computer science and engineering to address the entirety of the challenge.”

Chang, a former research director at the National Security Agency, joined SMU in fall 2013, and since has been involved in discussions regarding the creation of the institute.

He’s outlined the three key initiatives of the institute.

First, the institute will be focused on the creation of a cyber security science. In other words, understanding the science behind cyber security so that eventually researchers can attach principals, data, equations and predictions to the issue.

“The build of cyber security today is something bad happens and then you respond,” he said, adding, in general, society is left always catching up to cyber security threats. “We have to get to the point where we can get ahead, and that’s where science comes in.”

The second focus of the institute is to embrace an interdisciplinary approach to the science. This means tapping into knowledge from technical, social science, legal experts and beyond.

Third, the institute will seek to close the gap between the number of skilled cyber security professionals and the need for their expertise.

The institute will go beyond publishing academic papers and will also offer sponsored research, Chang said. Companies looking for unique or individualized solutions to a cyber security issue will be able to sponsor research from the institute, which will work on finding a solution.

“We aren’t in the business of creating shrink-wrap software,” Chang said. “It would be more along the lines of a prototype, and if it looked promising, (the company) could take the next step.”

SMU has considered cyber security a strength for more than a decade, according to Christensen, and the new institute comes as the issue rises up the priority list for companies across the nation.

“The pace of the attacks and activity, and the size of the compromises get bigger and bigger each time,” Chang said. “So it just heightens the interest level.”

Danielle Abril Staff Writer- Dallas Business Journal
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