25 February 2019

David Kneeland, 2nd-year Masters student in the LBJ School of Public Affairs, is a Brumley Next Generation Fellow at the Strauss Center, working in our Cybersecurity Studies program. Under the guidance of Professors Matt Tait and Michael Sulmeyer, David is performing research for his year-long Brumley project. He's goes into detail for us here:

So you’ve now done months of work on your project. Could you tell us about it, including what you’re working on specifically at this point in the year, and how it has changed from the beginning?

"Initially, my research goal was to examine cyber-attacks against Industrial Control and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems. These systems are a combination of computers, servers, sensors, and other components used to monitor and control a range of processes from oil and gas production to nuclear power generation. Attacks on ICS/SCADA systems, particularly in critical infrastructure, have garnered more public attention in the past couple years.

Following Professor Tait's resignation from the University of Texas and my being paired with Dr. Michael Sulmeyer, my research focus has shifted to hone in on challenges facing the oil and gas industry. Specifically, my aim is to understand the top cybersecurity challenges the oil and gas industry faces beyond attacks on Industrial Control Systems, to survey the policies and resources available to address those challenges, and examine what role outside entities might play in encouraging better cybersecurity preparedness."

What are some specific things your mentors have helped you with? Perhaps a new perspective on something, etc.?

"Early on, Professor Tait offered guidance on how to survey the broad landscape of information on ICS/SCADA incidents and how I might develop specific policy recommendations to address vulnerabilities to Industrial Control Systems. Dr. Sulmeyer has provided guidance on how to both broaden the scope of the project while addressing specific concerns in the oil and gas industry."

What has it been like as both a Brumley Scholar and Fellow? [Ed: Brumley Scholars is our undergraduate program.]

"It has been an absolute privilege to be one of the Brumley Next Generation Fellows. It has been fun to conduct my own research while receiving feedback and inspiration from the visiting guests from the Brumley Speaker Series. In January we welcomed renowned New York Times journalist and cybersecurity expert David Sanger to The LBJ School to speak about the current state of cybersecurity and his most recent book, The Perfect Weapon. We also welcomed Deputy Director of the National Security Agency George Barnes to campus last fall. The level of access and insight is unprecedented outside of the Brumley Next Generation Fellows program."

You recently had your Brumley event with David Sanger. What were some things you learned from him? Any surprising insights he gave on cybersecurity, intelligence, or anything else?

"David Sanger spoke on the current state of cybersecurity and why cyber-attacks really are the perfect weapon. I learned a great deal about cybersecurity from Sanger's presentation and from my conversations with him outside of the event. But, the single-biggest idea I took away was putting the current state of cyber-conflict in the proper historical perspective. Sanger compared the timeline from the development of the airplane in 1909 to the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima thirty-five years later to cyber-conflict today. If we measure cyber-conflict today using the aviation analogy, we are somewhere around World War I in terms of development scope and scale. Sanger noted that as a society, 'we know what the delivery system looks like but not the warhead.' Viewed this way, the implications for how we understand and prioritize cybersecurity as a nation are significant."

You gave a presentation last month with students Meagan Bennett and James Wenninger to a few military intelligence groups. Could you give us some details, and how did it go?

"Recently, Meagan, James, and I from our Professional Research Project last year were invited to brief the 71st Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade and the 636th Military Intelligence Batallion on some of our study's key findings. Our study examined interagency performance in counterterrorism operations after September 11th and the implications this had on gray zone operations. The MI leaders and soldiers were particularly interested in how to foster enterprise leadership in military intelligence operations, how to encourage innovation across the rank structure, and how to leverage technology to improve unit effectiveness. Our presentation was well received and we have received additional requests to come and present our findings to other Texas Army National Guard units conducting and supporting military intelligence and cybersecurity missions."

Thanks David!