As technology evolves, combating cyber attacks becomes a greater risk for the United States.

Enemies try to exploit vulnerabilities in the nation’s critical information systems, and the Department of Defense has called for new ideas to enhance security measures and develop solutions to threats that combine traditional research and unorthodox approaches.

Jonathan Boyd, professor in the C. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at West Virginia University, has developed techniques that could be used to design faster, more efficient and effective network security measures with fewer false alarms and failures.

His approach capitalizes on the network threat assessment and mitigation strategies employed by the human cell.

Boyd’s research has also landed him a competitive seat in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Young Faculty Award program.

He will receive a grant valued at $300,000 over two years to develop and validate his “Natural Designs for Network Threat Analysis” research, which examines novel means of securing business and military computer and data networks that may have an increased risk of cyber attacks.

The DARPA program identifies rising junior faculty researchers in academia and exposes them to the Department of Defenses’ needs and DARPA’s program development process.

DARPA’s goal is to develop the next generation of academic scientists, engineers and mathematicians in key disciplines who will focus a significant portion of their career on Department of Defense and national security issues.

Typical defense mechanisms for cyber attacks, like insider threats, social engineering, viruses, worms, phishing and malware, use intrusion detection sensors to detect suspicious activities on the network.

Traditionally, the sensors apply rule-based policies to block the attack from further damaging the network. Boyd’s examination of the dynamic activity of cell signaling cascades provides a framework for improved network threat assessment processes by identifying key mechanistic features of a potentially harmful exposure and linking them to evolutionary mitigation strategies, like localization, amplification and hedging.
With the help of DARPA, he hopes to improve this process by tackling a fundamental problem in the field, which is the lack of knowledge pertaining to the overall structure of cell signaling networks.

“Understanding the defense mechanisms of biological systems could greatly enhance future network systems and software applications by incorporating novel secure-by-design techniques learned from nature,” Boyd said.

He hopes to use signal transduction networks to understand the threat assessment decision process of cells in response to toxic exposures. He will then decipher key networks capable of early prediction of the significance potential threats may have.

Boyd is one of 33 DARPA Youth Faculty Award participants selected from nearly 300 research proposals submitted.

Applicants must be untenured faculty at U.S. institutions who are within six years of appointment to a tenure-track position.

In addition to research, recipients participate in military base visits, or exercises, which provide them with in-person perspectives of current issues faced by war fighters in hopes their work will positively impact the future of the U.S. defense community.

For more information, contact Jonathan Boyd at 304-293-3435 or



CONTACT: Rebecca Herod, Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
304-293-7405, ext. 5251,