They may not wear spandex or leather boots, but the elite team of investigators at the College of Arts and Sciences’ Center for Information Assurance/Joint Forensics Research (CIA/JFR) do indeed have some unique superpowers.

Cartoon of the CIA-JFR staff as superheroes. Meet the New Breed of Crimefighter at CAS's CIA/JFR

By Matt Windsor
Illustrated by Jin Chung

They may not wear spandex or leather boots, but the elite team of investigators at the College of Arts and Sciences’ Center for Information Assurance/Joint Forensics Research (CIA/JFR) do indeed have some unique superpowers. John Grimes, J.D., a career U.S. Army veteran who only recently returned to the UAB faculty from Afghanistan where he helped coordinate U.S. intelligence, is now using his knowledge of intelligence analytics to hunt down nefarious groups attacking U.S. businesses and government agencies.

He’s not the kind of man you want to cross. On the wall of his office are certificates from sniper school, paratrooper school, and a host of other elite military training recognitions and awards.

One floor above in UAB’s University Boulevard Office Building is the office of forensic scientist Elizabeth Gardner, Ph.D., an expert on the chemistry of illegal drugs who once helped analyze the failure of deep space rockets for NASA. Students in Gardner’s labs have learned to detect microscopic traces of cocaine residue on dollar bills and sort out the dangerous chemical mixtures found in drugs sold over the Internet.

In the SPIES (Security and Privacy in Emerging Systems) lab just across the road, the computer scientist Nitesh Saxena, Ph.D., is devising transformative ways to help users stay secure online, including turning password-based logins into a game as well as protecting new ways of making sensitive transactions, such as near field communication-based payments.

Meanwhile, computer forensics expert Gary Warner is using the UAB Spam Data Mine to track the criminal gangs responsible for stealing millions of dollars in cyberspace. CIA/JFR, known as “the Center,” is directed by Tony Skjellum, Ph.D., chair of the UAB Department of Computer and Information Sciences. It now includes dozens of investigators from a range of specialties with a common goal—to stay at the cutting edge of crimefighting and share the fruits of their research with law enforcement, affected businesses, and consumers.

“Our members work together to help create, prototype, test, implement, and refine tools to strengthen all defenses against any potential attacks,” Skjellum says.

It’s important that the researchers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, adds John Sloan, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Justice Sciences and a cofounder of the Center. “Criminals work across interdisciplinary lines,” Sloan says, “and that’s how our research, development, and outreach works. There’s no other way to keep up and help law enforcement catch criminals.”

Cartoon of Elizabeth Garnder as a superhero. Elizabeth Gardner, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Justice Science

Specialty: Forensic chemistry

Research Focus: Identifying emerging drugs of abuse; testing illicit drugs to determine the identity and concentration of common adulterants; testing clothing from clandestine labs for methamphetamine and other drugs; infrared spectroscopy of blood; laser analysis of trace evidence.

“My work is all about the chemical analysis of organic compounds. There are very similar techniques that can be applied to everything from tracking oil spills in the Gulf to determining the composition of ‘ legal high’ drugs ordered off the Internet.”

iartoons a superhero. Ragib Hasan, Ph.D., assistant professor, Department of Computer and Information Sciences

Specialty: Cloud computing and practical security

Research Focus: Trustworthy data history, provenance, and accountability for cloud computing, file systems, and databases; mobile malware; secure social networking

“Businesses are making a major push in cloud computing, with Amazon, Google, and Apple leading the way. But right now you don’t have any guarantees about what happens to your data when it goes into the cloud. I’m interested in how we can make those clouds more secure and protect privacy.”

Cartoon of Jihn Griro. John Grimes, J.D., assistant professor, Department of Justice Sciences, director of intelligence analytics for CIA/JFAR

Specialty: Human intelligence, counterintelligence

Research Focus: Measurements and signals intelligence; imagery and geospatial intelligence

“If you think of all things in cyberspace as dealing with ones and zeroes, my role is to round out the rest of the intelligence spectrum—the two through nine of an investigation, if you will. I focus on what a cyber-malefactor may do coming up to the keyboard and then what happens when they pull back. It’s not enough to know that a crime has happened; you have to know who has done it and prove that to the satisfaction of a judge and jury.”

Cartoon of Nitesh Saxena as a superhero. Nitesh Saxena, Ph.D., assistant professor and director of the SPIES lab

Specialty: Computer security, user-centered security, and applied cryptography

Research Focus: New security paradigms for computer systems, especially smartphones and other mobile devices

“Users don’t have much intrinsic motivation to pursue security tasks online or act in a secure manner, but they do like games. So instead of entering a password, you might be prompted to play a quick game that would actually be establishing your identity or credentials.” 

Cartoon of Gary Warner as a superhero. Gary Warner, director of computer forensics research at UAB

Specialty: Computer forensics

Research Focus: Cybercrime, especially phishing and malware; developing UAB PhishIntel database to provide comprehensive source of cybercrime evidence to law enforcement

“More than 11 million people will be victims of financial crimes this year, and a great deal of that will include malware and phishing. We need better technology to detect these attacks and a better way to protect consumers. UAB PhishIntel is part of that. We can pinpoint the criminals who are responsible for thousands of phishing attacks, and in many cases we have their e-mail accounts and locations. We can go to law enforcement and tell them, ‘These are the ones you want to go after.’”
  • Letter from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Our fall semester is in full swing and the momentum is building in the College and across the university.
    posted a while back 955 views
  • Finishing Strong

    We finished the academic year with a major exhibition at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts and celebrated another joyful, thrilling commencement ceremony, at which more than 2,000 UAB students graduated.

    posted a while back 897 views
  • College Alumni Community

    Our former graduates have had a great year of events and celebrations, all organized by our Alumni Board led by president Wes Calhoun. 

    posted a while back 1032 views
  • Faculty Receive University Awards

    Renato Camata, Roger Gilchrist, Samiksha Raut, and Nitesh Saxena were all recognized this year for their excellence in teaching, mentorship and advising.

    posted a while back 1406 views
  • New Chairs, New Faculty Join the College

    This fall, we welcomed several new faculty members, a new chair for the Department of Sociology, and three interim chairs. We are proud to have all of them in leadership and academic positions and are excited to see what they accomplish at UAB.

    posted a while back 1565 views
  • Nine Departments Welcome New Faculty Members

    This fall, new faculty members join the Department of Communication Studies, the Department of Computer Science, the Department of Criminal Justice, the Department of English, the Department of Music, the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Social Work, the Department of Sociology, and the Department of Theatre.

    posted a while back 1520 views
  • New Degrees, New Department Names

    At recent Board of Trustees meetings, two new degrees and two new department names were approved.

    posted a while back 1177 views
  • New Building Groundbreaking

    Dean Palazzo, along with President Ray Watts and Provost Pam Benoit, joined several invited guests to celebrate the groundbreaking for our new arts and sciences academic building on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.

    posted a while back 1391 views
  • Remarkable Generosity

    Donors establish five new endowments in the College—the most ever received in one year.

    posted a while back 1056 views
  • Personal History

    Love and learning are the two recurring themes of Sol and Rita Kimerling’s incredible story.

    posted a while back 1683 views
  • Strike Up the Band!

    Under the leadership of new director of bands Dr. Sean Murray, the marching blazers are ready to retake the field this fall.

    posted a while back 1821 views
  • Risk Takers

    From changing majors to changing sports, these former football players, cheerleaders, majorettes, and Blazerettes stepped outside their comfort zones and transformed their student experiences–and future careers.

    posted a while back 4418 views
  • Just This Once, A little Health Advice

    Am I the only one who feels bombarded by unwanted health advice? You can’t open a newspaper (remember those?), a magazine, the internet, or turn on the television without stumbling across someone dispensing tips for living a longer, healthier life.

    posted a while back 1281 views
  • Message from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Right now is such an exciting time on campus, and not just because the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing. With the approval of our new Arts & Sciences building, scheduled to be open in Fall 2019, we are embarking on an exciting journey to construct a stunning space for our faculty and students.
    posted a while back 3573 views
  • A Vibrant Fall Semester
    There was an explosion of creativity and celebration last fall with AEIVA and the Institute of Human Rights kickoff event at the Alys Stephens Center.
    posted a while back 3543 views
  • Senior Wins Gilman Scholarship
    Jane Murphy, a student in foreign languages with a concentration in French, has been awarded the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship to study abroad.
    posted a while back 3968 views
  • Dean's Award Winners
    Congratulations to these deserving undergraduate and graduate students, who were nominated by their professors for this prestigious recognition.
    posted a while back 3217 views
  • Neuroscience Major a Finalist for Gates Cambridge Scholarship
    Hriday Bhambhvani, a double major in mathematics and neuroscience, was named a finalist for the Gates Cambridge Scholarship
    posted a while back 4652 views
  • Lamario Williams Wins Scholarship and Travel Award
    Physics major Lamario Williams received a PhysCon MSI/HBCU Travel Award to attend PhysCon 2016 in San Francisco.
    posted a while back 3368 views
  • Students, Faculty and Alumni Win Big at 2017 ADDY Awards
    Students, faculty, and alumni from the College of Arts and Sciences make a strong showing at the ADDY Awards.
    posted a while back 4032 views
  • New Degrees in Computer Science, Digital Forensics, Immunology and Genetics and Genomics Sciences
    The College of Arts and Sciences is proud to offer new degrees in Computer Science, Digital Forensics, Immunology, and Genetics and Genomics Sciences.
    posted a while back 4923 views
  • Public Relations Certificate First in State
    Majors in public relations and other communication studies will now have the opportunity to boost their resumes with the addition of the Certificate in Principles of Public Relations.
    posted a while back 3865 views
  • Dr. David Schwebel Receives Multiple Honors
    Dr. David Schwebel, professor in the Department of Psychology and associate dean for research in the sciences, receives multiple honors.
    posted a while back 3680 views
  • Dr. Christopher Lawson Named Chair of National Research Nonprofit
    Dr. Christopher Lawson, professor in the Department of Physics, has been elected board chair of a national nonprofit coalition.
    posted a while back 3507 views
  • Dr. Sarah Parcak Launches TED Wish, Receives Additional Recognition
    Dr. Sarah Parcak, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, launches GlobalXplorer, a project funded by her $1 million 2016 TED Prize.
    posted a while back 3809 views
  • Dr. Shahid Muhktar Receives Large NSF Grant
    Dr. Shahid Mukhtar, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, has been selected to receive a three-year $800,000 grant for his research from the National Science Foundation.
    posted a while back 3725 views
  • Two Biology Faculty Members Elected as Fellows in American Association of Advancement of Science
    Department of Biology faculty members Dr. Charles Amsler, professor, and Dr. Steven Austad, distinguished professor and department chair, have been elected fellows of the American Association of the Advancement of Science.
    posted a while back 3566 views
  • Psychology Professors Part of New Alabama Regional Autism Network
    Dr. Fred Biasini and Dr. Sarah O’Kelley, professors in the Department of Psychology, are part of a new Alabama regional autism network.
    posted a while back 4095 views
  • Dr. Melissa Harris Receives Award from PanAmerican Society
    Dr. Melissa Harris, an assistant professor in the Department of Biology, has received the 2016 PanAmerican Society for Pigment Cell Research (PASPCR) Medrano Award.
    posted a while back 3520 views
  • Dr. Margaret Johnson Awarded NIH Funding
    The Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a five-year MIRA R35 grant to Dr. Margaret Johnson, an assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry.
    posted a while back 3910 views
  • NSF Grant Funds New CyberCorps Scholarship Program
    After years of collaboration between the Departments of Criminal Justice and Computer Science, The National Science Foundation has awarded a $2.1 million Scholarship for Service grant to address cybersecurity challenges.
    posted a while back 3641 views
  • One for the Books
    Congratulations to our 20 faculty members who published 21 books in 2016.
    posted a while back 3773 views
  • 2017 Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction Dr. Heith Copes, Department of Criminal Justice
    Dr. Heith Copes, professor in the Department of Criminal Justice, has been named the 2017 winner of the Ireland Prize for Scholarly Distinction.
    posted a while back 4043 views
  • 2016 Alumni Awards
    Our 2016 Alumni Award winners represent another outstanding class of graduates who have made—and continue to make—a tremendous impact in their respective fields and in the larger community. This year’s winners graduated with degrees in Computer and Information Sciences, Political Science, History, Physics, and Public Administration, reflecting the breadth of scholarship and study in the College.
    posted a while back 3064 views
  • Class Notes
    We want you to share your accomplishments! Update your alumni information.
    posted a while back 3113 views
  • The Power of Two
    Couples Jim Sokol and Lydia Cheney, Lee and Brenda Baumann, and Jane and Jim Ed Mulkin discuss their strong ties to UAB.
    posted a while back 6873 views
  • Write On
    Tucked into Sterne Library is one of UAB’s best kept—and most powerful—secrets: the University Writing Center.
    posted a while back 3757 views
  • Body and Mind
    College of Arts and Sciences researchers investigate what actually happens when we age—from our cells to our cognition—in the hopes of prolonging high-quality life.
    posted a while back 9581 views
Back to Top