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A Tribute to Kevin Henson, Cyber Security Expert and UT Dallas Affiliate Researcher

Kevin Martin Henson passed away peacefully at age 47 on Thursday, November 7, 2019, in Plano, Texas.  He was born on January 11, 1972, to his loving parents, Kenneth C. Henson and Kathleen Henson, in Fort Rucker, AL. Kevin Henson will be sincerely missed by his loving family, his devoted friends, and all the wonderful individuals who knew and loved him.

As a cybersecurity expert, Professor Henson wore many hats. Most of them involved pushing cyber education forward, with many of them in collaboration with the UT Dallas CS Department and its Cyber Security Research and Education Institute.  While working at Cyber Defense Labs (CDL), he helped coordinate the in-house training of new interns and employees for CDL.  Professor Henson often served as a guest lecturer at UT Dallas, in formal Computer Science classes as well as the less formal seminars put on by the student-run “Cyber Security Group” or CSG.  Henson worked with UT Dallas CS/SE students on social engineering, cryptography, and SCADA or control systems security.

During the summers, Professor Henson partnered with UT Dallas to put on a series of 4-week cybersecurity camps, where students from all over the country came to learn hands-on how to solve today’s toughest cyber challenges.  His summer camps aimed to start young people on the road to becoming effective cyber warriors with an excellent grounding in ethics, hardware, networking, operating systems, automation, and security tools, reaching them when they were young and eager to learn. The peer learning environment he created encouraged the best students to return as team leaders, then instructors, and finally to intern at CDL.  His program was very successful amongst attendees, and as a result, former campers are now full-time scholarship students at prestigious universities, with many serving as professional security consultants.  Henson’s cybersecurity camp has inspired imitations throughout the country, as well as locally at several Dallas schools, where cybersecurity classes have been launched.

Director of the UT Dallas Center For Computer Science Education & Outreach (CCSEO), Dr. Jey Veerasamy,  remarked on his years working with Kevin saying, “I worked with Kevin Henson for a couple of years when we started Cyber Defense camps about 4 years ago!  He was always passionate and wanted to get things done!   He was extremely involved in the camps and was the lead instructor. I encouraged his assistants and the campers to give them their best. I never heard any complaints from the campers or parents–only concern from one parent that her child did not expect the camp to be this intense!  That is a good thing.  Obviously, he was a great communicator, possessed wonderful soft skills and enabled everyone around him to give their best.  He will be greatly missed.  He has set the standard for UTD Cyber Defense camps and we continue to run them now as best as we can.”

Professor Henson was passionate about helping his students achieve more than they believed they were capable of.  He was a natural mentor with insight across multiple disciplines. In 2016, Professor Henson was awarded the Cyber Security Educator of the Year award by Cybersecurity Excellence Awards.  He served as a full-time instructor at North Central Texas College, where he was revamping the cybersecurity curriculum to be more hands-on and project-focused.   He taught virtualization, operating system security, advanced network detection, and related subjects.  College students who completed the rigorous courses taught by Professor Henson were ready to solve problems in the real world.  Nearly all the applied learnings covered in his classes came directly from his recent professional engagements, though his students never knew which company originally made the errors leading to the vulnerabilities they were studying.  Professor Henson challenged his students every class period to become IT professionals capable of handling any problems that came their way.  Ultimately, many students found real life as a security professional easier than solving his labs, though they would not have had it any other way!

The college classes he taught were superb.  Lectures were assigned as homework in advance, so students would become familiar with the details of the next lab they would do in class.  Professor Henson’s class time was reserved for questions, discussion, and demonstrating in virtual environments how to solve real-world security problems.  In his courses, students were tasked to build networks and then penetrate them with advanced hacking tools, all within the safety of a virtual environment.  Students would “break” windows and networks many times in class, where it was safe to explore and get experience by making mistakes.

Excerpted from an obituary by

Adam Taichi Kraft

Major, U.S. Army Chemical Corps, Retired

Below are some of Kevin’s popular videos, courtesy of YouTube and the Blaze TV Network:


 


ABOUT THE UT DALLAS COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENT

The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 3,315 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,110 master’s students, 165 Ph.D. students,  52 tenure-track faculty members, and 44 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2019. With The University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.

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