You have to think like a hacker to thwart a cyber attack. That is the driving force that puts Iowa State University’s Information Assurance Center at the forefront of protecting critical infrastructure like the power grid from cyber terrorism. The center is one of only a handful of cybersecurity programs across the United States to earn Center of Excellence Awards in research and teaching from the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.

“There’s work going on to design computer systems that can automatically protect themselves by changing their profile,” said Doug Jacobson, director of the Information Assurance Center. “Attackers can’t get a foothold and can’t really see what they’re going to attack because the profile just changed again.”

The Iowa State Information Assurance Center holds regular short courses for utility and transportation industry computer engineers to demonstrate ways to change their system profiles.

“We are battling a dynamic, intelligent force out there,” said Doug. “It makes it an extremely challenging environment to work in.”

He said the world of 2050 will be one where cyber attacks will occur more often and inflict more damage. Jacobson said recent high-profile attacks at major retailers and Sony Pictures may be just the beginning.

“Target and Home Depot were sort of a wakeup call that our retail sector has some weak spots. Sony was another wakeup call that this can be used as a weapon to intimidate or punish,” Jacobson said.