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Securing Cyberspace

Bill Lidinsky, Industry Professor of Information Technology and Management, and the ForSec Lab

A crime wave is sweeping the nation, and Bill Lidinsky (EE ’61, M.S. ’70) is ferreting out clues. But he isn’t looking for latent fingerprints, weapons, or gunshot residue. As industry professor and director of security and forensics in Illinois Tech’s School of Applied Technology, Lidinsky studies the proliferating methods that cybercriminals use to inflict mayhem, which increasingly include swiping personal data, industrial secrets, and billions of dollars in cash.

Lidinsky guides students through two broad areas in this accelerating field: cybersecurity and cyberforensics. The first seeks to maintain optimum system health, preventing attacks and infections. Should cybersecurity fail, Lidinsky says, cyberforensics takes over: “In this case, something bad has happened. Now we have to find out what it is, who did it, and how we can apply cybersecurity to keep it from happening again.” Students working in his ForSec (Cyber Forensics and Security) Lab attack one another with computer viruses and ambush would-be assailants using such cyber-snares as “honey pots” and “tar pits,” learning techniques of disaster and data recovery and gaining hands-on experience with a suite of specialized tools applied to both the cybersecurity and cyberforensic sides of the equation.

In order to outsmart ever-more sophisticated cybercriminals, students in the program engage in what Lidinsky calls “ethical hacking.” By mastering the methods used to breach computer networks and mobile devices, deliver viruses and worms, and create zombie networks and other nefarious entities, students can develop new techniques to thwart such mischief. The lab is equipped with a micro-Internet, fully isolated from the rest of cyberspace, which prevents any of ForSec Lab’s digital pathogens from escaping. Lidinsky notes that many of his computer forensic efforts remain classified.

He has appeared as an expert witness for local and federal government agencies, including a pair of criminal cases in which his students assisted in his cyber-sleuthing. Lidinsky is also gaining recognition as a global cybersecurity expert. In 2015 the Al Jazeera Television Network interviewed him along with one of his graduate students about the Cicada 3301 Internet puzzles.