Tufts hires Bridge Professor to specialize in cybersecurity

The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy on Tufts' Medford/Somerville campus is pictured on Oct 14, 2014. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily Archive

Cybersecurity policy expert Susan Landau will join Tufts faculty next fall as a Bridge Professor between the School of Engineering and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy

Landau, currently a professor of cybersecurity policy at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, was chosen for the bridge professorship because of her expertise in both fields, according to Vice Provost Kevin Dunn.

“Professor Landau is one of only a handful of people working in [cybersecurity] with strong credentials in both the technical side and in law and policy,” Dunn said. “She is widely regarded as one of the top people in the field, and we consider ourselves very fortunate to have convinced her to come to Tufts.”

Landau’s appointment caps off a multi-year effort between the Department of Computer Science and the Fletcher School to develop a joint program and Bridge Professorship, according to Computer Science Senior Lecturer Ming Chow.

“For years we have been trying to work with Fletcher,” Chow said. “If we have a vested interest here in computer science, and the Fletcher School has a need for cybersecurity, it would make sense to work together.”

Landau explained the value in studying cybersecurity and computer science with an interdisciplinary perspective, especially in the context of the current political climate.

“Cybersecurity is partially technical — how do you secure a system, what is a good cryptographic algorithm, what attacks might work against this particular implementation of two-factor authentication. But it’s also partially social. You have to understand how people use systems — human design — and also how laws and policies work,” Landau said.

Computer Science Department Chair Kathleen Fisher noted that Tufts created the cybersecurity and computer science Bridge Professorship because of the importance of these areas in the modern world.

“I think partly why cybersecurity is so important now is because not only do we have to worry about cybersecurity with computers … there are many more places where bad cybersecurity can lead to consequences in the physical world, not just with money, but by physically hurting people,” Fisher said.

Dunn added that the careful study of cybersecurity and policy in tandem is even more important, not only because of technological advancements, but also because of current global affairs.

“Making policy in a vacuum of information and expertise is always a bad idea. And if that’s the general rule, it applies even more strongly here, where the stakes for our democracy are so high and where the knowledge required to make good decisions is so complex,” Dunn said.

Chow expressed hope that Landau’s Bridge Professorship will spark an initiative to create higher-level programs of study in the field of cybersecurity at Tufts.

“This is one of the bigger goals of our joint cybersecurity and policy program,” Chow said. “It’s not only to get expertise here at Tufts, but also for more opportunities for Masters programs, perhaps a Ph.D. And the grand vision is to have a joint center of studies in international cybersecurity and policy.”

Chow explained that Landau will play a critical role in launching a more expansive cybersecurity program because she can reach people involved in both policy and technology branches.

“We were looking for someone that had not only a technical background that could speak to computer science, but most importantly someone who could speak on the policy, and especially to non-technical folks. That’s a very rare mix to have,” Chow said.

According to Fisher, most of the courses taught by Landau will be cross-listed between the Fletcher School and the Department of Computer Science, and will be open to both computer science and Fletcher students. With regard to the courses Landau will be teaching, Dunn highlighted the benefits of the interdisciplinary focus of the Bridge Professorship.

“She will create exciting possibilities for undergraduate students to work alongside Fletcher students at the cutting edge of this interdisciplinary area,” Dunn said.

Landau’s position will also help meet increasing student demand in the Department of Computer Science. The department has made significant progress in filling other positions, according to Fisher, and, if all goes well, five new faculty members will be arriving in the fall.