Israeli schools ranked among top in cyber research

Far East and US universities top list by Ben-Gurion University researcher, who puts his school at 49 and Technion at 91

Cyber-attack (Shutterstock)
Cyber-attack (Shutterstock)

Two Israeli universities made a list of the top 100 schools in the world for cyber research, put together by an expert at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, using a new system he developed. His school ranks 49, and the Technion – Israel Institute of Science comes in 91st.

The system ranks universities based on the quantity and quality of the academic journal articles published by their faculties. The quality of a journal article is determined by the “impact factor” of the journal that publishes it.

The researcher, Prof. Lior Rokach, an information systems engineer at BGU, applied the system to rank the top 100 cyber-research universities in the world.

Prestigious American universities like MIT, Carnegie Mellon University, and Princeton University are near the top of the list, but the two highest ranked universities are from the Far East: Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and Tsinghua University in Beijing. Less blue-blooded American universities round out the top five: Purdue University, Pennsylvania State University, and the University of Illinois.

The fact that Ben-Gurion University came in at 49 and the Technion at 91 is notable since the system gives a non-averaged score, rewarding volume. That means larger universities have an advantage, and the two Israeli schools are relatively small.

“The Chinese universities did well for I think several reasons: They are large, they are becoming stronger and stronger in all fields, and they are young, which means they can jump on new fields that offer a lot of funding,” said Rokach. “As far as Ben-Gurion’s ranking, it think it describes very nicely the university’s focus on cyber. It’s not surprising for me that we got a relatively high score.”

Rokach modeled his system on the influential Academic Ranking of World Universities, better known as the Shanghai Ranking. In the latest ranking, published in August, BGU was between 101 and 150 in computer science research. Rokach wanted to know where the university stood in the relatively new subfield of cyber, which was not distinguished in the ranking. Cyber refers to communication over computer networks.

To produce his cyber ranking, Rokach looked at the same journals as the Shanghai Ranking does. In 2014, that included journals published between 2009 and 2013 and included in the Thomson Reuters Science Citation Index. The annual index is the “gold standard” for academic journal quality, used to determine their impact factor, or times cited.

Rokach focused on journals in three categories: information systems, cybernetics, and information security – a category he created. Like the Shanghai Ranking, he scored the information systems and cybernetics categories based on number of publications and percentage of publications in the best journals. The best journals are defined as those in the top 20 percent of journals in the categories, according to latest impact factor report, published in July.

For the newly defined information security category, which is not included in the impact factor report, only the number of publications was used. The Shanghai Ranking in computer science also takes into account the number of a university’s faculty and alumni who have won the Turing Award, the Nobel Prize of computer science, but cyber is too new a field to have any winners.

Rokah said he developed the ranking system primarily to see where his university stands in the world of cyber research, linked to its launch this fall of a Master of Science program in cyber security. He plans to make the ranking public and to compile it annually, saying it will help his university and others around the world track progress and plan collaborations.

For the previous two years, the Department of Information Systems, where Rokah works, and the Department of Computer Science offered a specialization in cyber, which will serve as the basis of the new master’s program. Rokah is a member of the faculty.

Fifty-nine students have enrolled. They will be required to take eight cyber courses in subjects like cryptography, network security, and attack detection. Fifteen of the students this year will do cyber specific theses, which usually contribute to research being done at the university.

“The university has been doing cyber research since partnering with Deutsche Telecom [a German telecommunication giant] in 2004,” said Rokach. “Since then, we have done many projects with other corporations and with government agencies. Students are involved in all of these projects.”

Ben-Gurion University aspires to be a world leader in cyber research. Its cyber security labs are researching issues such as malware and botnet detection, mobile security, and attack attribution. Last week the university received a $5 million donation to erect a building for its Cyber Security Institute, a think tank that the university will run along with Israel’s National Cyber Bureau.

The new degree and the think tank are part of a larger cyber initiative based in the Advanced Technologies Park in Beersheba. The university is working with the government, the municipality, the Israel Defense Forces, and leading multinational high-tech corporations on cyber research, education, and business development. A nonprofit company, the CyberSpark Industry Initiative, was launched on Tuesday to coordinate the initiative.

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