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NCSA’s CSND Provides Vital Services Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

Artistic styling of COVID-19 virus cells on computer networking cables in blue

NCSA’s Cybersecurity & Networking Division (CSND) works to advance the state of the art of cybersecurity and networking, apply those advances to key science and engineering user communities, and provide for the high-performance and security of NCSA’s networks and substantial computing resources.

Like all of us, CSND is responding to the new challenges presented by COVID-19 by making sure that research communities are still able carry out ground-breaking research in various disciplines safely and securely.

NCSA Chief Information Security Officer and manager of CSND, Alex Withers, has been ensuring that the security policies and procedures for NCSA’s Advanced Computational Health Enclave (ACHE) continue to enable researcher access while maintaining appropriate data privacy protections for electronic Protected Health Information. Withers is also the co-lead of XSEDE Security Operations, which is part of the nationwide HPC Consortium to fight COVID-19.

Senior Research Scientist Jim Basney has been working in support of the InCommon federation’s COVID-19 response, to ensure that researchers can use their federated identities for seamless access to research collaboration services such as NCSA’s CILogon service that enabled federated access for over 175 researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in April.

Basney is also the deputy director of Trusted CI: the NSF Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, which provides a number of cybersecurity services to the NSF research community and is offering priority help to COVID-19 researchers.

Security Operations Manager James Eyrich and Senior Security Engineer Leandro Avila-Diaz hosted office hours for Illinois K-12 teachers to help ease cybersecurity worries in a time of increased computer usage for educational purposes. The two presented practical advice on password managers, two-factor authentication, and how to avoid phishing scams. The presentation slides and video have been posted to their site to further spread such information to the public.

Eyrich is well-acquainted with cybersecurity challenges for local schools due to his experience with IT consulting for the Hoopeston school district when he’s not working at NCSA. In June, James will be presenting a talk to NCSA’s SPIN and REU students on a variety of cybersecurity topics, including remote work guidelines, password best practices and how to look out for email/phishing scams.

Working remotely poses some unique security challenges to the working public. James recommends adding screen lock timers, or logging out when not using your system, not leaving your work devices unattended and remembering to be wary of scams such as unsolicited emails about purchases and emails containing suspicious attachments.

Technical program manager for network engineering and research, David Wheeler, has been overseeing the operation of NCSA’s high performance network while NCSA staff are working remotely to ensure uninterrupted access for scientific data transfers. Like many other organizations during this time, NCSA is seeing increased use of its Virtual Private Network (VPN) service. Using “split-tunnelling mode” ensures that only priority NCSA traffic flows through the VPN and other traffic (such as Zoom video streams) do not increase load on the VPN.

NCSA’s CSND will continue to find ways to help NCSA employees and researchers as well as the general public as they work remotely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure cybersecurity and safety.


The National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign provides supercomputing and advanced digital resources for the nation’s science enterprise. At NCSA, University of Illinois faculty, staff, students and collaborators from around the globe use these resources to address research challenges for the benefit of science and society. NCSA has been advancing many of the world’s industry giants for over 35 years by bringing industry, researchers and students together to solve grand challenges at rapid speed and scale.

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