REU Site: Data-driven Security

Computer Science Department

Boise State University

Program dates: June 1, 2021 - July 30, 2021

This year the program will be held in a virtual format

Application deadline December 31, 2020

Data-driven security is an emerging interdisciplinary area that focuses on researching and applying data science and artificial intelligence methods to solve national security problems.

National security protects the country against substantial physical and psychological threats to our government; public safety; environment; or energy, food, and fiscal infrastructures. Terrorism, misinformation, and cyberattacks are common examples which are among the top 26 national security threats America is currently facing. Data-driven security is an emerging interdisciplinary area that focuses on researching and applying data science and artificial intelligence methods to solve national security problems. For instance, it deals with applying social network analysis and game theory for bad actor detection and counter-attack in crime and terrorist networks; using artificial intelligence to reduce the spread of misinformation which is responsible for manipulating opinions and public response; integrating data science and analytics into cybersecurity for meeting the cybersecurity challenges of processing large data sets in order to gain valuable insights and reduce cybersecurity risks.

By combining Computer Science and Mathematics, this proposed REU site in data-driven security will provide a unique research opportunity for undergraduate students, who will learn how to bridge the gap between theory and practice and communicate across disciplines. Successful professionals in data-driven security need to know how a model works to be able to choose the most suitable one to solve a problem.

The program is supported by the National Science Foundation under the grant CSN-1950599.

REU program features

  • 9 week research experience in data-driven security.

  • Receive $7,800 stipend (this year the stipend includes an allowance for meals and housing).

  • Travel funds to/from the Data-driven Security REU site.

  • Participate in professional development workshops addressing research presentation skills, scientific writing and ethics.

  • Attend scientific seminars and guest lectures by computer scientists and mathematicians.

  • Be part of the summer community of collaborators, students and faculty, from all STEM disciplines and programs on campus.

  • Opportunity to win a travel grant to present summer research results at a national conference.

  • Opportunity to present at the 2021 Idaho Conference on Undergraduate Research (ICUR).

  • Enjoy the various cultural and social activities in and around Boise.

Main research areas for student research projects

Students will develop data-driven security research projects in the areas of counter-terrorism, misbehavior detection and misinformation mitigation, and cybersecurity (e.g., intrusion detection systems, lightweight cryptography, and side channel attacks).


  • Dr. Francesca Spezzano is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Boise State. Her research interests are in social network analysis and social media mining with applications to covert networks and misbehavior detection.

  • Dr. Edoardo Serra is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at Boise State. He is a researcher in data science for national security, with emphasis in cybersecurity and covert networks.

  • Dr. Liljana Babinkostova is a Professor in the Department of Mathematics at Boise State. Her research specialties are cryptography, cryptanalysis, and game theory.

  • Dr. Marion Scheepers is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Mathematics at Boise State. His research specialties are logic, set theory, game theory, algorithmic processes in Biology.

Research Areas:

  • Spezzano and Serra have been working extensively in data-driven security. Spezzano has been conducting research on social network analysis for national security (detecting bad actors in terrorist and nuclear proliferation networks), information authenticity (detecting malicious users in social media such as Wikipedia vandals and spammers, trolls, and opinion spammers and protecting the Web from misinformation). Serra has been researching robust disclosure of terrorist behavioral models using strategic deception, preemptive resource allocation for anti-poaching, detecting anomalous landscapes such as nuclear power plants and military settlements, and cybersecurity problems such as automating patching, strategic alert monitoring, and honeypot deployment in enterprise and networks, malware infection spread prediction, and detecting DoS attacks in SDN networks. In addition, Serra and Spezzano jointly collaborated on detecting bad actors in financial crime networks and health security.

  • Babinkostova and Scheepers bring unique expertise in information security, cryptography, logic, graph theory, and game theory that serves as an important complement to the data-driven security research. They have nine years of experience in working with undergratuate students while running an NSF-funded REU site in Mathematics with research applied to search optimization, information security, and genome biology (award number DMS-1062857, DMS-1359425, and DMS-1659872).

About Boise State University and the Computer Science Department

Boise State University is a research-active public university and the largest institution of higher education in the state of Idaho based on enrollment. The Computer Science Department is hosted in downtown Boise, in the heart of Boise’s technology ecosystem. The CS building also houses the headquarters of Clearwater Analytics, a software-as-a-service company that reports on over $1.7 trillion in investment assets and processes over $2.2 million transactions daily. Data science and cybersecurity have become two focus areas for continuing department growth, with the majority of the faculty members active researchers and educators in these areas. More broadly, Boise State places a high value on undergraduate research and undergraduate potential. Boise State organizes the Idaho Conference on Undergraduate Research in July and a Summer Research Community bringing together all undergraduate researcher on campus and providing seminars and social events.


Dr. Francesca Spezzano

Boise State University