NEWS: UC Santa Barbara Leads $20M AI Cybersecurity Initiative

Robot image from 2023 cyberrisk program annual report

UC Santa Barbara is leading a $20 million research institute for next-level AI-powered cybersecurity. This groundbreaking project, Agent-based Cyber Threat Intelligence and Operation (ACTION), is an effort to bring continuous learning and reasoning of AI to security threats.

The project is backed by a $20 million grant from the National Science Foundation over five years.

Leading the Way to the Future

Heading this multidisciplinary initiative is Professor Giovanni Vigna, a computer science professor and cybersecurity expert at UC Santa Barbara. Collaborating on this ambitious project are UC Santa Barbara colleagues Chris Kruegel, João Hespanha, and Ambuj Singh, along with more than 20 collaborators from other leading institutions such as UC Berkeley, Purdue University, Georgia Tech, The University of Chicago, University of Washington, University of Illinois Chicago, Rutgers, Norfolk State University, University of Illinois, and University of Virginia.

Singh, whose research involves AI/human interactions, said merging AI with human expertise is a best-of-both-worlds security scenario. “Building a joint human-AI system that complements each other with capabilities, such as presenting a human expert with risk-reward options derived from an AI-learned model, are some of the ways in which the institute will lead the frontier of future research in AI cybersecurity.”

Foundational AI and Cybersecurity Integration

The research plan involves the strategic combination of foundational AI with cybersecurity. An AI “stack” with layers of functionality will support various aspects of AI, including learning and reasoning with domain knowledge, human-agent interaction, multi-agent collaboration, and strategic gaming and tactical planning. These AI domains will empower the creation of intelligent “agents” capable of assessing and identifying potential attacks, identifying attackers, and take action for recovery.

Congressional Recognition and Future Prospects

On September 19, 2023, the directors of the 25 AI Institutes, including ACTION, presented their research on Capitol Hill “to enable congressional” staff to learn more about the amazing research and technologies that are being developed at these AI Institutes.”

Vigna said, “There is increased interest from lawmakers on AI-related issues in general and cybersecurity in particular. The advantages that stem from using autonomous intelligent agents to secure the nation’s critical infrastructure are clear: AI-enabled terminologies will address the scale and time requirements for effective response to sophisticated attacks.”

As UC Santa Barbara spearheads this groundbreaking research, the ACTION institute is poised to lead the frontier of future AI cybersecurity research, promising innovative solutions to safeguard against evolving security threats.

Learn More about UC Cybersecurity

  • C3 Tools and Services: The Cyber-Risk Coordination Center (C3) collaborates with UC locations to enhance cybersecurity systemwide. Use this link to learn about C3 services and tools.

  • Upcoming Summit – October 2024: Mark your calendars! The 15th UC Cyber Security Summit will take place on October 9, 2024, at UC Irvine. Early bird registration starts in July. Keep an eye on the Cyber Security Summit website for more information, coming soon.


Judi Baker
Digital Risk Communications and Events Manager
UC Office of the President