Texas A&M University - Central Texas awarded cybersecurity contract
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Department of Homeland Security and the United States Air Force have awarded a $4.2 million cybersecurity contract to Texas A&M University Central Texas and Texas A&M University, as announced in a press conference held Friday afternoon in the Bill Yowell Conference Center at Texas A&M University Central Texas.
The contract, which also includes Texas A&M University Engineering Experiment Station and CENTEX, Inc., is for four years and is for research purposes. The scope of the research is to protect cyber infrastructure against external manipulation of hardware and software, specifically for cyberattacks targeting communications of law enforcement, fire and EMS personnel; energy generation and water distribution; military defense and national infrastructure.
TAMUCT President Dr. Marc Nigliazzo shared the news to a crowd of community members, Fort Hood officials and city officials, including Killeen Mayor Jose Segarra.
“This research opportunity was initiated by Congressman John Carter and our pathway through the approval process was led by our own Dr. Russ Porter, who is vice President of Research and Economic Development, with continuous support from the Texas A&M University System and from Congressman Carter’s office,” Nigliazzo said. “The contract award will allow us to move toward the development of a cybersecurity research center on campus, opening the opportunity for a partnership with other Texas A&M University system institutions and agencies, while further strengthening our relationship with the Army’s Operational Test Command.”
Nigliazzo shared thanks to Rep. John Carter and to Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp. It was through the Chancellor’s Research Initiative that TAMUCT was able to purchase its Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) back in 2017.
“Without CRI implementation, we would never have reached our current level of research capability in such a short period of time,” Nigliazzo said. “Both of these gentlemen, Judge Carter and Chancellor Sharp, have also strengthened our regional capability to not only pursue sophisticated research but to move forward in planning the implementation of a regional research park on our campus.”
Rep. John Carter, who represents District 31, which encompasses Killeen and a part of Fort Hood, said that this was the fight that needed to be fought. The battlefield has changed from the air, land and sea to now encompass space and cyber as well, he said.
“When you look at warfighters, who fights the wars, they’re just down the road from us right here at Fort Hood, and so I think it’s very appropriate that we should launch a cyber study right here on the Great Place, because this land used to be part of Fort Hood, and Fort Hood is the premier Warfighters in the entire nation,” Carter said. “In this fight, nobody can surpass the warfighters that came out of Fort Hood, and the accomplishments they’ve had. So, think about it. We are the warfighters, cyber is the new battle, the battlefield should be right here at A&M Central Texas.”
Sharp credited Carter for the success of getting the contract and shared how the pieces fell together to get to this point.
Nigliazzo approached Sharp three years ago and ended up using the Chancellor’s Research Initiative to purchase a scanning electron microscope, which partnered with the cybersecurity agreement, can solve a problem, Sharp said.
“Folks in other countries, folks who are our enemies, folks who are thieves, are willing to imbed little bitty pieces of malware and all kinds of bad stuff into the chips that we buy, that we may put in the Department of Defense, that we may operate in the military and things like that,” Sharp said. “What this contract is about that Judge Carter got us, is figure out how you find those things and not embed them in your system so somebody can spy on everybody in the future.”
Cybersecurity is the future of advanced research, Sharp stated.
“Because you have an electron microscope, all of a sudden that fits, because that little thing can magnify something a million times better than even Marc Nigliazzo’s eyes can see. Actually, one million 100,000 times,” Sharp said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “So all of that, that first idea that Marc had to do that, morphed into something that qualified for what Judge Carter and the folks in Washington were doing, and with this grant that Judge Carter got you, all of a sudden you’re in a whole new league.”
Sharp said that done successfully, the new research will produce research that hasn’t even been thought of yet.
“It’s particularly great because of our relationship with Fort Hood and because of the attitude of the entire Texas A&M system about veterans, about military service and the sacrifices that all those folks play,” Sharp said. “But this is about making sure that we protect them and their secrets so they’re not in danger because somebody is looking inside all of our defense apparatuses because somebody slipped a chip in from a foreign government that is spying on us.”
“The place that will fix that is A&M Central Texas,” Sharp added, to thunderous applause.