Governor’s STEM Scholars to train students in online intelligence gathering, analysis

R&D Council of N.J. helping to launch Cyber Forensics Laboratory

The Governor’s STEM Scholars, a program of the Research & Development Council of New Jersey, and the Network Contagion Research Institute are launching the Governor’s STEM Scholars Cyber Forensics Laboratory, a first-of-its-kind initiative to train New Jersey high school students in the emerging field of cyber-social threat identification and forecasting.

Through the Governor’s STEM Scholars Cyber Forensics Laboratory, New Jersey science, technology, engineering and mathematics students will develop the workforce skills required for open-source intelligence analysis, an emerging field at many intelligence agencies.

Using publicly available information, such as social media traffic, the Governor’s STEM Scholars participating in the lab will learn to identify and analyze threats to our national and state public health and infrastructure, online extremism endangering vulnerable communities and social media manipulation of capital markets.

Adam Sohn, CEO of the Network Contagion Research Institute, said the synergy makes sense.

“Our youth are on the frontlines of where social media creates risk, so, helping them develop next-generation skills to mitigate these risks and be on the frontlines of the solution is key to ensuring that civil societies can endure this new threat landscape,” he said.

This year, nine of the 128 Scholars were selected to participate in the lab, where they will assess foreign government manipulation of social media to affect energy sector supply chains. Using Big Data analytics, these scholars will produce high-impact intelligence reports and climate models/forecasts on the threats impacting the public and private sector and local communities in New Jersey.

Alise Roderer, director of the Governor’s STEM Scholars, said the lab will have great impact.

“Misinformation spread through social media is one of the biggest threats to our communities, businesses and democracy,” she said. “It is essential that we have a future workforce that knows how to identify and track those who are maliciously manipulating people through social media.

“Through the Governor’s STEM Scholars Cyber Forensics Laboratory, we are able to provide New Jersey high school students with the tools to identify and analyze this misinformation in a first-of-its-kind pilot program, preparing them for an essential and important job of the future.”

The NCRI has pioneered the use of machine learning and Big Data analytics, as well as modern investigative techniques to identify and forecast cyber-social threats.

This pilot is based on a successful, three-credit college program at Rutgers University, that has now entered its ninth semester and has trained over 100 students, many of which work with the NCRI upon graduation, or move into positions at U.S. intelligence agencies and major companies. The lab will provide a high impact and data-driven model that can be replicated by high schools across the country.

The Governor’s STEM Scholars Cyber Forensics Laboratory is funded with the support of the PSEG Foundation.