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Northeastern recruits top cybersecurity expert from Google to lead new institute

Northeastern has recruited a top cybersecurity expert from Google to lead the university’s new institute for cybersecurity and privacy research and education.

John Manferdelli, engineering director at Google, will head the Northeastern University Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute, which will leverage the leading expertise of College of Computer and Information Science faculty members.

“John has the perfect combination of practical and theoretical knowledge across all areas of cybersecurity and privacy, experience leading a large industry security group, and deep knowledge of government priorities to lead the new institute,” said Carla Brodley, dean of the College of Computer and Information Science.

Bucking convention

Manferdelli—whose move from industry to academia bucks convention—brings a bold vision, a wealth of leadership experience, and expertise in developing systems and software that protect product services and customer data.

“The sustained and explosive period of growth of digital technology has made cybersecurity foundational to continued progress throughout science, commerce, and society,” Manferdelli said. “The best cybersecurity research will benefit from the scale, scope, and diversity of emerging applications in industry, government, and scientific research. Northeastern’s strong record of research and its history of close industry and government partnerships offers an exceptional opportunity for impactful, important contributions, and I feel lucky to be a part of it.”

Manferdelli, who has been at Google since 2014, serves as a member of the Defense Science Board in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He has also served on a group that advises the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, on information technology and conducts study panels.

Prior to Google, Manferdelli was a senior principal engineer and co-principal investigator at the Intel Science and Technology Center at the University of California, Berkeley. He spent 16 years working at Microsoft in top research and management positions, and also co-founded and served as vice president and president of Natural Language Incorporated.

Leading research to solve today’s key security problems

The newly launched institute will bring together faculty, research scientists, students, government, and industry to develop new insights into today’s key security problems and deploy novel research techniques into the field. Specifically, the institute will facilitate industry partners to tap into cutting-edge research at Northeastern, as they work with leading faculty, research scientists, and students—including co-ops—on projects of mutual interest.

The institute will address all aspects of cybersecurity and privacy, ranging from theoretical analysis to experimental test beds. The initial focus will cover topics such as malware, advanced persistent threat attacks, low-level hardware security, security and privacy in mobile-cloud architecture, internet of things security, wireless and networking protocol security, cloud security, policy for privacy, theoretical aspects of security and privacy, and security-related aspects of human-computer interaction.

Northeastern is recognized as a leading institution in information assurance and cybersecurity education, and is one of only eight universities to be designated by the National Science Foundation, the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a Center of Academic Excellence in all three areas: cyber defense education, research, and cyber operations. The university is also a recipient of the CyberCorps: Scholarship for Service grants from the National Science Foundation that fund cybersecurity study by both undergraduate and graduate students. Northeastern offers doctoral and master’s programs in information assurance and cybersecurity, and is currently designing a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity that will launch in the fall.

Staying ahead of cyberattacks and privacy breaches is one of the most important challenges of our time, and Americans have expressed concern over cybersecurity and data privacy. A Pew Research Center poll reported in January found that a majority of Americans (64 percent) have personally experienced a major data breach, that roughly half (49 percent) feel that their personal information is less secure than it was five years ago, and that many lack confidence in government and social media sites to keep their personal data safe from misuse.

The new institute will be located at Northeastern’s newly opened Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex, which will provide state-of-the-art facilities for conducting research toward advancing the institute’s mission. The institute will comprise a dozen faculty members, some of whom also hold joint appointments in the College of Engineering, and it plans to grow through the hiring of additional faculty as well bringing in more research scientists, postdocs, and doctoral students.