Dr. Kyle Murbach

Dr. Kyle Murbach works remotely from Denver, Colorado.

Courtesy Kyle Murbach

Dr. Kyle Murbach, a new research staff member with The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), a part of the University of Alabama System, is using Zoom from Denver to improve the cybersecurity curriculum for d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HoH) students and perform cybersecurity research through the UAH Center for Cybersecurity Research and Education (CCRE).

Deaf himself, Dr. Murbach is currently supporting the CCRE’s nationwide curriculum for students who are d/Deaf and HoH as a member of the CCRE faculty in a role he seems almost destined to have filled.

Born and raised in Wheaton, Illinois, his story was different from many of those in the d/Deaf and HoH community. Only 10% of d/Deaf and HoH children are born to Deaf parents. Dr. Murbach considers himself fortunate to be in that 10%. His parents learned to navigate a world designed for hearing people and passed down their perseverance to do so at a very early age.

"I was born deaf. Both of my parents are deaf as well," he explains. "Coming from a Deaf family, American Sign Language (ASL) is my native language. I received a Cochlear Implant at the age of five, which transformed my listening and speech skills, allowing me to better connect with my hearing peers who didn’t know ASL. Growing up, I was often the only deaf student in the classroom and relied on ASL interpreters to fully gain access in understanding my teacher and classmates."

Dr. Murbach’s journey to work to create a more accessible cybersecurity curriculum for the d/Deaf and HoH came through a roundabout path, however, as his early interests led him first to computer programming.

"Both of my parents worked in the field of IT, which led to me being exposed to computer programming and gaming throughout my teenage years," he says. "I took Computer Science in high school and learned how to program in Java. The field of computing began as a hobby, but has led into a professional career that I have tremendous passion for."

After high school he enrolled in his parents’ alma mater, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York, where he earned a B.S. and M.S. as part of a Dual Degree Computing Security program where he took part in numerous research projects related to cybersecurity and completed two internships. After graduating in 2016, he was hired by the federal government as a cybersecurity professional.

"At this point in my life, I still felt the desire to continue my passion for learning in the field of cybersecurity," Dr. Murbach notes. "This decision led me to apply for Dakota State University’s (DSU) doctoral program in Cyber Operations. I completed my Ph.D. in Cyber Operations in 2019 while working full-time throughout the whole program."

The entire time he was getting his education, he realized that the skills he was learning were being augmented by an outlook on life that would carry him well beyond the simple need for a job.

"My desire for research and critical thinking began at RIT where I was exposed to various research projects by professors, both deaf and hearing, who pursued and received research grants," he says. "These faculty were driven to make meaningful changes in this world and served as my role models."

It was a fortuitous meeting with a member of the UAH CCRE faculty, Dr. Tommy Morris, CCRE Director and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at UAH, that proved to be the spark that began to help the lifelong Midwesterner forge a connection to Huntsville.

"I first learned about UAH CCRE when I met the CCRE director, Dr. Morris, at DSU when he visited campus as a potential research collaborator for prospective Ph.D. students. We had conversed, but did not pair up. We kept in touch after meeting."

A few years later, the Colorado resident found himself intrigued once more by the possibilities presented by a program under development at CCRE that piqued his interest both professionally and personally.

"I ended up doing some side work for the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB), and that was when my path crossed with CCRE again as they were developing a cybersecurity curriculum for AIDB," he says. "This is when my attention was drawn to CCRE and their phenomenal work. From what I saw with CCRE’s curriculum developed for AIDB was the excellent quality of work being produced by their talented team. I was immediately interested in working with/for such a productive and innovative team, as well as an organization that I know has a great reputation. Additionally, I had been wanting to get back into academia and performing research in some capacity."

"Dr. Murbach began working with the CCRE in October 2020 as a principal research scientist/engineer with the CCRE Cybersecurity Operations Research Endeavor (CORE) Lab Team," says Sharon Johnson, the CCRE Deputy Director and Principal Research Engineer. "He provides daily hands-on technical direction to both full-time and student research scientists for several projects funded by federal agencies. These projects currently pertain to malware analysis, reverse engineering, tool development, cyber physical systems security and vulnerability analysis. Kyle also works diligently with the CORE Lab Team to identify possible grants and writes proposals for new areas of growth that capitalize on the CORE Lab Team's technical expertise."

Dr. Murbach uses Slack and Zoom each day to meet and interact with other CCRE faculty members and student researchers.

"The Zoom technology was implemented for UAH as a whole to be able to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, while CCRE implemented a Slack workspace as the primary form of communication for CORE Lab Team members rather than email," Johnson reports. "It has been a very smooth process! Most of us have been working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, so interacting with Kyle remotely seems familiar to us. We knew of Kyle's excellent work and his desire to stay in Colorado. Since Cybersecurity work lends itself very well to remote work, we thought it would be a good fit. Bottom line: We didn't want to miss out on excellent talent because of location!"

Dr. Murbach will begin visiting the UAH campus on a regular basis once the COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted as well. He states that the pull toward teaming up with UAH was a powerful one, though that is exactly what it took to make him pursue such a special opportunity to make a difference.

"One of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make was to leave the federal government to work for UAH CCRE. To this day, I still find myself formulating ideas for ways to make positive changes in the cybersecurity community as well as the d/Deaf and HoH community. I feel that UAH CCRE gives me the best opportunity to be able to do just that. I am extremely excited to begin my new role with UAH CCRE!"