Professor Sam Malek Receives GAANN Award to Strengthen Cybersecurity

October 19, 2021

UCI recently received six awards totaling $5,157,732 from the U.S. Department of Education’s Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) program, supporting 34 Ph.D. student fellowships each year. Seven of those fellowships will be in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS), thanks to a $1.14 million GAANN award going to Informatics Professor Sam Malek.

“GAANN is intended to promote graduate education in areas of national need,” says Malek. “Our proposal focused on cybersecurity, which — as we all know — is an increasingly important topic. Not a day goes by that we do not hear about some kind of a cybersecurity attack.” According to one report, 62.6 billion cyberthreats were identified and blocked in 2020, which works out to 119,000 threats per minute.

Malek, who is also director of UCI’s Institute for Software Research (ISR), stresses that technology alone cannot solve the problem. “Cybersecurity is a socio-technical problem,” he says. “The realization is growing that cybersecurity is broader than just the technical topics, such as the strength of the underlying encryption algorithms. Human factors are as important in improving the overall security of a software system.” Consider the cyberattack carried out earlier this year against Colonial Pipeline, the largest fuel pipeline in the United States, which reportedly was the result of a single compromised password.

UCI’s Department of Informatics, which houses the ICS Ph.D. program in software engineering, is thus the perfect place to tackle such challenges. Drawing on a wide range of fields, including computer science, human-centered design, and sociology, informatics faculty members take an interdisciplinary approach as they explore the social, ethical, economic and policy dimensions of computing. The GAANN funding will support up to seven domestic software engineering doctoral students studying cybersecurity. “Since software is permeating every aspect of our life,” says Malek, “the ability to secure software systems is playing an increasingly important role.”

Students interested in learning more about the fellowship can email Malek at

Shani Murray