ISI Program to Develop Grant-Funded Social Media/Dark Web Analysis Curriculum, Cyber Competitions

Ferris State University
PHOTO CAPTIONS: The Information Security and Intelligence program at Ferris State University has received a $130,000 grant from the National Security Agency, which will establish the instruction of social media/dark web analysis as it relates to cryptocurrency and criminal activity.


Ferris State University’s Information Security and Intelligence program has received a $130,000 National Security Agency grant to establish a social media/dark web analysis curriculum concentration that is focused on security and intelligence. It will also equip ISI faculty with the necessary training and classroom tools.

ISI was the first university-level instruction in the United States designated as a Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence by the Department of Defense. The NSA award leverages Ferris’ strong digital forensics presence. Greg Gogolin, director of Ferris’ Center of Ferris State UniversityCyber Security and Data Science and the grant’s primary investigator, explained that a multiple social media analysis courses focus on marketing. This grant funding will create the first university courses in social media and dark web analysis from a security and cryptocurrency perspective.

“Cyber Warfare is an increasing threat on multiple levels including personal, corporate and national,” Gogolin said. “This grant enables the Information Security and Intelligence faculty to teach students and partner organizations how to investigate criminal activity that includes the use of social media, the dark web, and cryptocurrency.”

A unique aspect of Ferris’ ISI program since its inception in 2007 is the integration of cybersecurity with data analytics.  This emphasis on analysis has attracted enrollment from a significant female population, which is somewhat unusual for a technical program.

Jason Otting, an assistant professor in the College of Business, is one of several ISI faculty that have extensive experience with the legal system, and also works closely with the Michigan State Police Cyber Crime Lab.

“The FSU ISI program has been heavily involved in cybersecurity and cybercrime investigation for over 10 years,” Otting said. “This grant is part of the next step in preparing people to not only defend against cyber attacks but to also track down the perpetrators and those using the dark web to profit from those attacks.”

An additional objective is to hold cyber competitions related to social media, dark web and cryptocurrency analysis in the FSU Cyber Competition Center, a facility that saw upgrades supported by a $160,000 NSA grant.

Recruiting individuals with interest in cybersecurity and data analytics to the ISI program is a significant focus of the cyber competitions offered on campus. Rather than holding a single competition, the intention is to expose students to a variety of specialty areas in the Information Security and Intelligence space through a series of six competitions, which will be held throughout the year. It is believed that having people work on various types of puzzles can be a beneficial exercise when considering these fields, and such opportunities are among the most impactful and vast regarding illuminating career pursuits.

Students can major or minor in either Information Security and Intelligence or Data Analytics at Ferris, based on their particular interests. Jim Furstenberg, an assistant professor in the College of Business, is a co-primary investigator for the NSA grant and leads Cyber Team 2 in the Michigan Cyber Civilian Corps. He said there is significant demand for investigators with these skill sets.

“There is a massive criminal and state-sponsored infrastructure involved in malicious activity on multiple levels,” Furstenberg said. “We need to develop passionate cyber professionals that are equipped to successfully fight this invisible war.”

The ISI program has been designated a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense by the National Security Agency and a Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence by the Department of Defense. The Ferris ISI program is also an Amazon Web Services Academy, Cellebrite Forensic Academy, EC-Council Accredited Training Center, Palo Alto Networks Academic Partner, CompTIA Academy Partner, and Pearson Vue Testing Center. High schools interested in participating in the university’s ISI cyber competitions can find more information at the department’s web page.