In the wake of Hurricane Ida—among the debates on climate change and disinvestment in infrastructure—lies another reminder: the fragility of critical systems is not confined to natural disasters. Threats can materialize from the digital space to impact many of the same systems.
A recent partnership between faculty at the College of Engineering, College of Science & Technology and Temple Law School has produced a new, interdisciplinary course that aims to prepare burgeoning engineers, scientists and legal professionals with the tools to defend from and respond to such attacks.
"The overarching goal is to cross-educate engineers, computer scientists and attorneys in their respective fields of their contributions to physical cybersecurity," said Prof. Thomas Edwards, Chair of the Department of Engineering, Technology & Management, and one of the faculty members who spearheaded the course, along with engineering professor Sherwood Polter, cybersecurity professor Dr. Mary Grace Giraldo and Prof. Duncan Hollis from Temple Law.
According to Dr. Edwards, these types of threats demand an interdisciplinary response, so course material is geared toward informing each discipline of the other's focus area.
"A physical cybersecurity attack is one that jumps from the cyber-world to the physical world to threaten infrastructure. Once the attack touches on the physical world, engineers are a critical part of the response," Dr. Edwards added.
Controls engineers, from electrical & computer engineering or mechanical engineering, along with civil engineers, would benefit from the course as they are deeply involved in the design of critical systems such as water treatment plants or pipelines (two examples covered in the course). But don't expect engineers to enter a courtroom any time soon. They just need to have functional coordination with their counterparts in legal and science fields:
"The team (responding to such a threat) will work better when team members have an in-depth understanding of each other's challenges and capabilities."
EMGT 8110 is open to engineering graduate and advanced undergraduate students.