Top Cybersecurity Expert Makes LSU Home

February 10, 2023

Aisha Ali-Gombe, LSU Division of Computer Science and Engineering associate professor, is originally from Gombe, in northeastern Nigeria. She said she came to the United States as a grad student, which is when she also fell in love with cybersecurity.

Aisha Ali-Gombe

As a young student, math was her favorite subject, and she said she chose computer science as a major because of the number of math courses it required.

“I realized in graduate school, when I took my first cybersecurity course, Intro to Cybersecurity, that, this is me. I found who I am and what I wanted; it spoke to me. The idea of understanding how bad things can be done on computers and other devices and how to respond and detect and prevent such things from happening is like CSI. It is thrilling,” Ali-Gombe said.

While she is far from home, Ali-Gombe said she has fallen in love with Louisiana too.

“My favorite thing about Louisiana are the lakes, bayous and swamps. Growing up in a sub-Saharan region where water bodies are uncommon, I find the sight and sound of water in Louisiana very serene and tranquil. The University Lakes area is my favorite place on campus,” Ali-Gombe said. “Of course, I miss the food and family events in Nigeria, but I found the Louisiana hospitality very welcoming and there is great food here.”

What is your research focus? 
My research focuses on finding solutions to complex problems associated with security, privacy and forensics on mobile and Internet of things, or IoT, platforms. Particularly, I employ various analytical  techniques in understanding programs of potentially unknown origin. The goal is to understand program functionality and design logic and be in the developer's mind without having the original blueprint. This kind of research helps us figure out flaws and bugs in software. We can use these techniques for forensics examination and incident response, and certainly, we can apply the same set of techniques with some tweaks to examine privacy violations in software.

What is the impact of this research on Louisiana? 
Mobile applications and, to some extent IoTs have become a crucial part of daily life for many people and certainly for Louisianians. My research aims to ensure secure and trustworthy mobile and IoT platforms for individuals, organizations and nation-states. In addition, my research aims to build forensics tools, techniques and algorithms for detection and finding evidence to find out where bad guys use mobile or IoT devices for bad stuff, whether it is individually or within a larger cyberinfrastructure like a cyber-physical environment. Our work has users, law enforcement and regulatory components. 

I also engage in workforce development, meaning by teaching and imparting cybersecurity knowledge and skills to the next generation. We are building and training the workforce that can protect and defend the infrastructure for the state of Louisiana and the nation at large.

What classes do you teach at LSU and what do you hope your students take away from those classes?
I teach primarily in the cybersecurity concentration. This semester, I am teaching Reverse Engineering and Malware Analysis, and I will be introducing a new class in System Security Fundamentals in the Fall. I also teach Operating Systems, which is a required class for all our majors.

I teach my students a very hardcore and technical cyber that helps them be in the mind of an attacker and makes them think and process information like a computer’s central processing unit, or CPU. But more than anything, I want my students to have an excellent pedagogical experience.

What advice do you have for students pursuing careers in cybersecurity, especially women?
Cybersecurity is a fascinating and fun domain where there is something for everyone. For instance, there is risk analysis for students interested in the business side of cyber; there is a legal component for law students; there is the psychological angle to cyber; there is something for the education folks; we can’t do cyber without the electrical engineers, and now with IoT and cyber physical systems, or CPS, the mechanical and civil sort of engineers have to be integrated into cyber. Thus, cyber is for everyone: we need all skills, all people and all expertise.

As a woman of color, do you consider yourself an anomaly in this field?
While there may be few people who look like me in cyber, I certainly belong, and that’s how I felt 12 years ago when I joined this domain. As I mentioned earlier, cybersecurity is for everyone. I found that over the years, my woman instinct and organizational traits are some excellent qualities that kind of set me apart from my peers. So, yes, I did it. You certainly can do it. Cyber is for everyone.

How do you think science and scientists can do a better job becoming more accessible to people of color and women?
We often underestimate the power of mentorship and advocacy. It is imperative for us scientists to encourage, guide and mentor the next generation irrespective of their color or gender and make them feel like they belong. Make them feel that their contribution matters and that they as a people matter. We need to believe and trust in them. I am here with you today because someone believed in me more than I ever believed in myself, and that is what we need to do to make cyber or any STEM field accessible to the minority population.

You worked in industry before pursuing a career in academia. Share with us how that experience has shaped your approach to teaching.
I worked for a financial institution for about five years and as a head of the customer service unit for about two years. This experience certainly has shaped my teaching philosophy. As a good customer service officer, I approach teaching with knowledge, patience, empathy, professionalism, responsiveness, adaptability and effective communication. I see my students as my customer, and my goal is to offer my students the best service ever, so they can have an excellent experience, the knowledge they came for and leave with a permanent positive impression of cyber, computing, science and my institution.

In your opinion, what makes LSU's cybersecurity program stand out among others?
We have the best and brightest minds here at LSU. But more than anything, we have committed folks who work tirelessly to give the best education to our younger generation.