Detroit Mercy receives award from Department of Defense

The University of Detroit Mercy has received a substantial award from the United States Department of Defense to help pioneer its work in establishing the Metro Detroit Regional Vehicle Cybersecurity Institute. The award is provided through the Virtual Institutes for Cyber and Electromagnetic Spectrum Research and Employ (VICEROY) program, which is managed by the Griffiss Institute, a 501(c)(3) organization, in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). 

Paul Spadafora, the director of Professional Engineering Programs for Detroit Mercy’s College of Engineering & Science, highlights the significance of this award.  

What the auto industry and military were telling us is they had really strong engineers and they had really strong cyber professionals, but they had this hole,” Spadafora said. There was this big empty gap between engineering and cyber. And so, they trained engineers to know cyber. They were trained with cyber people to be engineers, and neither was optimal. So, this award hits right at that. We are now graduating vehicle cyber engineers, right? So that’s the VCE program is unique in that manner.” 

This regional consortium, headed by UDM, has the goal of addressing the urgent need for the automotive industry to integrate cybersecurity expertise. The funding, totaling $497,080, marks a massive milestone for the school. 

Spadafora elaborated on the increasing vulnerabilities posed by modern vehicles, noting the proliferation of autonomous vehicles, electrified vehicles, over-the-air updates and connected cars, which present myriad vulnerabilities. The program at UDM is designed to equip individuals with technical backgrounds to construct cyber-resilient systems, addressing the pressing need for cybersecurity expertise in the automotive sector. 

Additionally, the VICEROY initiative offers scholarships and internship opportunities, serving as a gateway to spark interest in cyber engineering among aspiring professionals.  

A former intern, Sarwar Nazrul, shared their experience and said, “It was a cool experience. We were working for both the Air Force and DoD. Our main focus was on projects. They divided all the interns into groups of 4-5 and connected each group with different governmental departments. Throughout the week we had 3 days to work on our research projects and 2 days were just lectures from different DoD and military experts on Cyber Security. Fridays were mostly doing hands-on assignments on ethical hacking or EMS radios.” 

With new and escalating technological threats, the University of Detroit Mercy prides itself as a guardian against cyber vulnerabilities in the auto sector, achieving a hefty $497,080 award from the United States Department of Defense. The funding, which was channeled through the VICEROY program, escalates UDM’s Metro Detroit Regional Vehicle Cybersecurity Institute towards pioneering cyber-resilient systems.  

Placing importance on integrating cybersecurity expertise, this award not only marks a monumental milestone for the institution but also symbolizes a crucial step towards safeguarding the future of automotive innovation.