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ISU's Fast-Growing Cybersecurity Program Adds State Farm Endowed Chair

Shaoen Wu
Illinois State University
Shaoen Wu has been named the State Farm Endowed Chair of Cybersecurity within ISU's School of Information Technology.

Illinois State University’s cybersecurity program is growing rapidly—with nearly 350 students—as it prepares to move into a new space and launch a research center.

The private sector is taking notice. Professor Shaoen Wu was just named the first State Farm Endowed Chair of Cybersecurity, part of a $3 million commitment from the company in 2017. That’s when ISU’s cybersecurity major was created, in part to meet a growing need for workers in that field.

“We are close to 350 students now in the program, in just a few years. That’s amazing,” said Wu, who came to ISU in 2020. “With this endowment, in addition to facilities, technologies for the program, we also have opportunities to provide our students with a very unique education and research opportunities to work with faculty.”

Renovations are underway on the ground floor of ISU’s Julian Hall, which is expected to open in the fall, Wu said.

“That provides the latest technology, equipment, and also a spacious facility for our cybersecurity program students,” he said.

Wu said ISU’s cybersecurity research and education center is expected to be up and running later this year. Wu, for example, is currently researching the interaction between cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. He also has experience in smart health technology and wireless communication.

A.I., or machine learning, can be helpful to those looking to protect systems and user data. A.I. could make it easier to recognize suspicious patterns in network traffic—and therefore system intrusions.

“It goes beyond the identified patterns from the past that we’ve already identified as human beings,” Wu said. “The algorithms can learn something that could lead to potential attacks.”

On the flip side, machine learning could present new threats.

“The bad side can also exploit that technology too. For example, they can use A.I. to basically better hide themselves, so it’s hard to identify who initialized an attack,” Wu said.

Hear more about the cybersecurity program in this interview with Shaoen Wu:

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.