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.’”
  • Fall 2018: Letter from Robert E. Palazzo, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences
    If you haven't been to campus lately, I can't stress enough how different the environment is from what you may remember from your student days.
    posted 10 days ago 48 K2_VIEWS
  • Spring 2018 events in the College of Arts & Sciences

    Catch up with some of the big events sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, from Spring Flings to an exhibit at AEIVA.

    posted 11 days ago 71 K2_VIEWS
  • Award winning: What it takes for students to win major scholarships and awards

    The number of College of Arts and Sciences students who win major national and international scholarships and fellowships grows every year. What does it take to win one of these major prizes?

    posted 11 days ago 157 K2_VIEWS
  • Alumni honored at the 2018 UAB Excellence in Business Top 25 event

    We are proud to announce that eight College of Arts and Sciences alumni were honored as members of the 2018 class of the UAB Excellence in Business Top 25.

    posted 11 days ago 96 K2_VIEWS
  • Understanding Aquaman: The science and philosophy behind the superhero

    With the latest Justice League movie coming to theaters this Christmas, we ask: what does Aquaman represent? And could he really talk to sea creatures?

    posted 11 days ago 108 K2_VIEWS
  • Common threads: The value of interdisciplinary partnerships

    Our university enables faculty to make connections across various disciplines, schools, and centers, and being a part of the College of Arts and Sciences provides my colleagues and me with a broad platform to support this kind of effective interdisciplinary work.

    posted 11 days ago 105 K2_VIEWS
  • The Life-Long Learning Endowed Scholarship Honoring Ruth J. and Robert J. Colvin

    The Life-Long Learning Endowed Scholarship Honoring Ruth J. and Robert J. Colvin has been established in the departments of English and Foreign Languages and Literatures that will support deserving students and relieve them of their financial pressures.

    posted 11 days ago 66 K2_VIEWS
  • Data driven: Computer science meets the biological sciences in the new bioinformatics program

    New degrees in the College prepare students for emerging fields of personalized medicine, advanced manufacturing, and more.

    posted 11 days ago 85 K2_VIEWS
  • Dr. Mike Wilson and Professor Becky Trigg Endowed Award

    Friends, family, colleagues, and admirers of Dr. Michele “Mike” Wilson and Professor Becky Trigg have made generous gifts to create an endowed award in the Department of Sociology.

    posted 11 days ago 72 K2_VIEWS
  • The Henry E. Bates, Jr. Scholarship: A Blazing the Way Scholarship

    Johnny “Rusty” Edward Bates, M.D. has established the Henry E. Bates, Jr. Scholarship in the Department of Mathematics—one of UAB's new Blazing the Way Scholarships.

    posted 11 days ago 71 K2_VIEWS
  • Dr. Larry Krannich Endowed Student Research Scholarship

    The Dr. Larry Krannich Endowed Student Research Scholarship was established to recognize Dr. Krannich's decades of distinguished service to UAB and to provide opportunities for young scientists to gain valuable experience in the research environment.

    posted 11 days ago 191 K2_VIEWS
  • A servant's heart: Social work alumna Jeanne Welch gives back to UAB
    Jeanne Welch never really saw herself as college material. But a desire to help others, and an interest in mental health technology, helped her find her way to UAB.
    posted 11 days ago 56 K2_VIEWS
  • Letter from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

    While we have any number of outstanding male faculty members, students, and alumni who deserve recognition and are included, by and large this issue is about the women of the College of Arts and Sciences.

    posted a while back 743 K2_VIEWS
  • Events

    Catch up with some of the big events sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, from Homecoming to an exhibit at AEIVA.

    posted a while back 751 K2_VIEWS
  • Building a Legacy

    When UAB broke ground on the new Arts & Sciences Building in September 2017, the excitement was palpable. “There is no doubt that this new building will provide our campus community with a state-of-the-art facility in which they can work and learn,” said Dean Palazzo.

    posted a while back 812 K2_VIEWS
  • AEIVA Receives Significant Gift of Works by David Levinthal

    The Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA) Permanent Art Collection has received a generous donation of a number of works by David Levinthal, one of the most prolific and acclaimed photographers of his generation.

    posted a while back 876 K2_VIEWS
  • A Legacy of Love

    Jeannie Feldman has established both an award and a scholarship in the Department of History to honor her late husband, Dr. Glenn A. Feldman.

    posted a while back 934 K2_VIEWS
  • Capturing Success

    Palo Alto Networks' Cyber Competition for High School Students.

    posted a while back 842 K2_VIEWS
  • Paying it Forward

    Alumna Dr. Ana Maria Crawford has created an endowed scholarship to be used to support deserving students based on merit and financial need.

    posted a while back 1165 K2_VIEWS
  • They Persisted

    Despite complex social, cultural, and professional trends that keep women from academic careers in the sciences and mathematics, a small percentage of female research faculty stay the course.

    posted a while back 2629 K2_VIEWS
  • Taking a Leap

    Psychology and Public Administration alumna Ann Bridges Steely says her biggest career risks brought the greatest rewards.

    posted a while back 817 K2_VIEWS
  • Stellar

    Physics alumna Christina Richey has built a successful career in the competitive, and mostly-male, field of planetary science.

    posted a while back 1176 K2_VIEWS
  • Across the Spectrum

    Four female faculty members in the Department of Psychology study and treat Autism Spectrum Disorder.

    posted a while back 6748 K2_VIEWS
  • Everyone has a story

    “How did you end up in Alabama?” I get that question a lot, both here and abroad. I suspect that every immigrant is frequently asked the same question out of genuine curiosity, maybe interest.

    posted a while back 1353 K2_VIEWS
  • 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 1780 K2_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 1659 K2_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 1872 K2_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 2264 K2_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 2700 K2_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 2622 K2_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 2107 K2_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 2276 K2_VIEWS
  • Remarkable Generosity

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

    posted a while back 2045 K2_VIEWS
  • Personal History

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

    posted a while back 3156 K2_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 3751 K2_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 6717 K2_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 2101 K2_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 4432 K2_VIEWS