Supporting Economic Recovery
Digital Forensics Chair Sanjay Goel won a $300,000 Economic Development Administration grant to support Capital Region business pandemic recovery.
The School of Business has not been sidelined during the pandemic, continuing to transition traditionally face-to-face events such as job fairs, business plan competitions and student club activities, while adding new programs such as executive-in-residence, which brought a cadre of experienced professionals into Zoom classrooms to talk shop and careers. (Look for a story later this fall.) Two projects not only benefit students, but the New York State business community, placing digital forensics interns into firms that require their expertise. One grant provided support over the summer while another begins this fall.
EDA Grant Supports Business During Pandemic
The $300,000 Economic Development Administration Covid-19 Economic Revitalization Grant obtained by the School of Business, supports businesses in New York grappling with disruption from Covid-19. The grant provides paid internships to students to assist in the recovery. Chair of the Department of Information Security & Digital Forensics Sanjay Goel spearheads the effort.
“COVID-19 has forced businesses to transform their operations rapidly into online operations,” said Goel, “A lot of them are struggling with technology challenges, especially in ensuring information security of their operations. We have been helping small businesses during the transition to provide them support with technology and information security challenges. This grant will help us accelerate the process and reach out to more businesses.”
This fall 15 to 20 students will use their specialized knowledge to support business projects.
Cybersecurity Innovation and Research Center Summer Internships
Though student work through the EDA COVID grant has not yet started, many of the same students interned through a different grant this summer, the Cybersecurity Innovation and Research Center for University-Industry Technologies grant funded by the Economic Development Assistance arm of the Department of Commerce.
The 18 interns had valuable experiences, as did the firms who worked with them. Students used a variety of technical and business tasks to problem-solve.
According to Goel, “This was a win-win situation that provided support to business and at the same time trained students to create a strong pipeline of talented students for the industry in needed areas such as cyber security, forensics, online customer discovery and technology-led innovation.”
Interns Advise Alchar Printing on Virtual Storefront, Social Media and Cyber Security
As the pandemic paused many businesses, Denise Padula, owner and president of Alchar Printing, was stuck. How does she establish the online presence now essential for her well-established printing company? Kate Baker, director of the UAlbany based Small Business Development Center, pointed her to the Cybersecurity Innovation and Research Center Summer Internship program. Undergraduate digital forensics student Tejasvi Ahuja and his team did the rest.
Padula said, “We wanted to move online, but did not know how, as so much of our business is face-to-face. The students conducted a lot of in-depth research.”
Though Alchar had created a website and social media channels, they were not being used to their fullest. Padula said, “students advised that it is not ‘build it and they will come,’” and identified the low-risk, low time commitment efforts similar businesses were using to share content. They researched online ordering platforms.
Ahuja and his fellow students worked directly with Padula. “We analyzed their pre-COVID business processes to understand how they conducted their business before, what their critical requirements were going forward and how we could help them achieve their business goals during those unprecedented times.”
Ahuja said, “We re-engineered their existing purchasing payment process so that the business could support the new fully online e-commerce business model.” His team performed independent research and business requirements analysis and made recommendations for hardware and software investments in order to support Alchar’s move to a virtual storefront, while also providing guidance on cyber security awareness relevant to the businesses and e-commerce.
Padula said that though cyber security was not the focus of their work, they brought their knowledge to every aspect of the project. “They reached out to our IT and web teams to ensure that all of our systems, including online platform, social media, online payments, were secure.”
“The three students on my team were stellar. I was impressed by how much progress they made in six weeks and how goal oriented they were. It was a breath of fresh air to see the strong work ethic. It is more than just a skill set,” said Padula.
CHaASM Interns Establish Partnerships
Vice President and Cofounder of CHaASM Devin Breen brought in a team of students to work on projects for his two-year old cybersecurity artificial intelligence software start-up. He found out about the internship grant through a member of the School of Business Digital Forensics Advisory Board, Reg Harnish, CEO of Orbital Fire, who also advises CHaASM.
Breen said, “We wanted to give the students a chance to grow their skills and make a difference. I was impressed by their enthusiasm and curiosity and have the highest regard for them. It’s a great program.”
The students worked virtually, easy for an Innovate 518 company that, though based in Rochester, operates completely remotely. Digital Forensics student Joshua Woolward who earned a BS in Digital Forensics in the School of Business and is currently enrolled in the school’s newly created MS in Digital Forensics & Cybersecurity (Read story on this new program.), worked on a four-person team for CHaASM. He describes his work this way.
“CHaASM needed to convince investors and other companies to partner with them to fund their endeavors. This is where I and my fellow teammates came in. We performed market research on the best companies to fit CHaASM’s mission statement. Once that was completed, I reached out to multiple companies and requested demos of what they could offer CHaASM. If they were approved, I discussed the possibility of partnership. I did the same thing for the investors, attempting to convince them to fund CHaASM. At the time that I left, multiple partnerships between companies had been established, and a good percentage of the investors were willing to contribute as well,” said Woolward.
Breen notes that though each student was tasked with a specialization, they ended up collaborating, extending their knowledge base. “They learned a lot. Between meetings, they spent ten weeks on research. We needed them to understand cloud-native security and we trusted them to work one-on-one and build relationships with potential partners.” The five-week program was so successful that CHaASM kept the students on for an additional five weeks to work on analysis.
CYRISMA Interns Crosswalk Functions
Digital forensics student Natalie Badding and her team used best practice standards to create benchmarks help cyber risk management company CYRISMA. They crosswalked the company’s functions and features with the end result of configuring Microsoft Windows against best practices standards.
Badding said, “All of the skills we learned were super important. We learned a lot in ten weeks, including how to work with compliance mandates and run data scans. Our team accessed Windows group policy and updated the required security configurations,” noting that the internship also provided an opportunity to work on soft skills, “As the internship was completely virtual, we learned new ways to effectively communicate with the boss and how to manage our time.”
The new grant builds on the existing grant provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration to establish the University Center at UAlbany Cybersecurity Innovation and Research Center for University-Industry Technologies to support innovation in the field of cyber security in the Capital District. According to Goel who is the principal investigator for the project, the revitalization grant allows the center to expand its outreach to many more businesses and help them more broadly. He said, “The University Center has allowed us to establish a network of firms in the Capital District with which we work closely and support.” CIRCUIT provides technical assistance, conducts and disseminates applied research to address challenges resulting from the economic impacts of COVID-19, and assists communities in identifying and supporting workforce talent through training and internships.