UAB’s Gary Warner Receives M3AAWG J.D. Falk Award for Developing Collaborative Cybersecurity Education Program
M3AAWG 29th General Meeting, Montreal, Oct. 23, 2013 – One person’s passion, insight and behind-the-scenes resolve has given rise to a new approach to training 21st century “digital detectives” who can better identify cybercrime and protect end-users. Gary Warner has developed the University of Alabama’s Center for Information Assurance and Joint Forensics Research into a multi-dimensional educational program that has successfully collaborated with law enforcement and the industry in fighting real-world email and Internet threats. Recognizing his accomplishments, the Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group today presented Warner its annual J.D. Falk Award for innovative work contributing to the good of the online community.
“Cybercrime criminals are well equipped and fairly blatant. Yet there are few academic programs out there teaching cyber-forensics and anti-abuse work. Gary Warner has made it his life’s work to develop a graduate degree in computer forensics that, from the ground up, emphasizes the strategic thinking and experience-based knowledge needed to detect malicious behavior and block threats. By educating a new breed of security expert, his work is also ensuring a safer Internet for future generations,” said Chris Roosenraad, M3AAWG Co-Chairman.
Warner, UAB’s Director of Research in Computer Forensics, takes a pragmatic approach to online security and his commitment to protecting the Internet goes back to the early 1990s when, as a young computer scientist, he began volunteering long hours to fighting viruses because, as he said at the time, “our field is putting users all over the world at risk and it’s my responsibility as a computer guy to make sure the tools we made aren’t harming people.”
Today he tells his students, “If your research isn’t going to help stop crime or help protect consumers and companies from real world cyber threats, it’s not research I want to do in my lab.” As a result, the Center’s reports have been instrumental in analyzing spear phishing campaigns, detecting fraudulent advertisers, and identifying computers covertly sending spam that appeared to be from financial institutions or federal agencies such as the FBI, the IRS and the Social Security Administration. It also contributed to the takedown of Koobface, a computer worm targeting social media users.
Established in 2011, the Center involves professors, students and industry partners from diverse disciplines who collaborate on its stated goal of “making the world a safer place for citizens of the 21st century.” It primarily focuses on computer forensics, classical wet chemistry forensics, image processing and natural language processing forensics. Started as a “broom closet” lab with two students, Warner has overseen its growth into an important industry resource of 40 researchers with five professors who are making concrete contributions to safeguarding end-users.
Among current research projects, the Center is looking at malicious voice- and video-over-Internet (VoIP) malware that can access confidential information on users’ devices. It also is researching malware that can be triggered by hidden messages – undetectable to humans – in music, videos or light from a TV.
Graduates of the program are now part of cyber investigation teams identifying and combating bots, DDoS attacks and other threats at government law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, the CIA and the U.S. State Department. The industry’s largest Internet firms and financial institutions have hired its students. Warner has also co-founded the anti-phishing and cyber-intelligence start-up Malcovery Security based on the Center’s pioneering research.
The J.D. Falk Award is named after a founding member of M3AAWG who was passionate about safeguarding the Internet, end-user security and the value of collaborative work. It recognizes individuals for specific achievements that enhance the Internet experience, protect end-users, and embody his spirit of volunteerism and community building. The 2013 award was presented at the opening session of the M3AAWG 29th General Meeting in Montreal. The four-day meeting, held jointly with the London Action Plan, was attended by 400 security experts from around the globe.