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ISDS Professor Lands a $250K Grant to Study Cybersecurity, Dark Web

By Keith Morelli

Sagar Samtani receives grant

TAMPA (November 5, 2019) -- A contingent of USF faculty made the treacherous I-4 trip to Orlando late last month, and it paid off.

A $250,000 gift, donated by Tampa entrepreneur Arnie Bellini and his wife, Lauren, will go a long way to support research into cybersecurity – research spearheaded by a USF Muma College of Business professor who is at the forefront of exploring cybersecurity.

Bellini is the co-founder of ConnectWise, the Tampa-based computer systems company that provides services and products to businesses around the globe. He is a visionary, a successful entrepreneur and a valued friend of the college, said Muma College of Business Dean Moez Limayem.

“We could not be more grateful for Arnie, who believes in the important research we do here,” Limayem said. “He is investing in our cybersecurity program, knowing that that investment will lead to the creation of jobs in the industry and eventually provide the talent to fill the growing demand for qualified individuals who have expertise, not only in analysis, but creativity as well.”

The grant will help fund cybersecurity research at USF, but almost equally as important was how and when the funding was delivered: in a room of nearly 3,800 tech and engineering leaders – half of whom were CEOs – who came from around nation to attend the ConnectWise-sponsored IT Nation Connect Conference. The exposure of the work being conducted by Information Systems and Decision Sciences Department Assistant Professor Sagar Samtani will add to the rising trajectory of the college.

Samtani already has garnered research funding from the National Science Foundation, a rarity for a business college professor. He is on the cutting edge of cybersecurity research to identify players in the dark web who are responsible for breaching large databases, stealing personal information and selling it in the criminal corners of the digital black market.

“This is an amazing opportunity to do some impactful work in the fields of cybersecurity and cyber-threat research,” Samtani said. “This gift will give us the ability to bolster significant initiatives related to artificial intelligence for cybersecurity, giving us the resources we need to engage with the information systems industry at a deep and meaningful level.”

Samtani has explored emerging threats and key proactive cyber-threat intelligence by developing artificial intelligence-based algorithms and systems with a goal of sharing his findings with the tech industry to reduce the probability of breaches and hacks. Without being more specific, Samtani said the funding will allow him to continue his research and open new avenues of scholarly inquiry.

The annual conference was attended by industry executives, operational, financial, sales and security leaders. Recently, Bellini sold ConnectWise, but he was on hand at the conference to talk about products and services offered by the company he founded in the 1980s and to award Samtani the grant.

“Cybersecurity is one of my greatest passions,” Bellini said. “It is the new big thing, so we want to get this right.

"This gift and the exposure afforded to USF is designed to spotlight the unique capabilities USF has to cut back on the $6 bllion of annual cybercrime," he said. "That is 7 percent of the world economy. Our intent is to make USF the go-to university for cybersecurity." 

Addressing the conference attendees at the opening night welcoming event, Bellini said it is critical to be able to share information about cybersecurity breaches in real time among service deliverers, vendors and clients.

“We want to help you,” he said. “We’ve gone through this entire revolution, from storing data in filing cabinets to storing data on the Internet. We’ve got to protect our data or we can’t move forward on our next logical step. To do that, we need cybersecurity intelligence sharing in real time.”

The conference brought together the best and brightest of those in the technology field, in a non-competitive way focused on collaboration.

“We’re all working to push technology forward and we’re working together to make that happen,” says the website for the conference. The idea is to have conference attendees, build long-term connections and share expertise.

The three-day event included panel discussions and 29 individual break-out sessions discussing best practices, leadership and growth in the industry. Samtani participated in a panel discussion on cyber threats during the conference.