A $1 million grant will fund a Howard University project on cybersecurity. (Doug Kapustin for The Washington Post)

A $1 million grant will fund a research project at Howard University aimed at addressing cybersecurity concerns, the university said this week.

There is a national security need for protecting what are known as “cyber-physical systems,” said Moses Garuba, an associate dean at Howard. That means systems connected by networks and also integrated with what Garuba calls “physical processes.”

Think of a manufacturing plant that is making a chemical product, Garuba said Friday. That needs to be monitored by sensors, and when something goes wrong, that information feeds back to a system that is supposed to respond to the issue. Other “cyber-physical systems” can include drones, driverless cars or machines in hospitals, Garuba said.

“These systems are increasing dramatically across the nation, and it’s going to pose a major security threat in terms of hacking if we don’t figure out ways to control them — to understand who is trying to get into them, to monitor these activities as well as to protect them from incursions,” he said.

The three-year grant is from the National Science Foundation, according to the university. It was awarded to Garuba and Danda B. Rawat, an associate professor at Howard. The project will focus on creating a platform to develop and test solutions that would prevent cyber-physical systems from being compromised, Garuba said.

“Part of this research is to encourage the development of security from the onset, not at the tail end of it,” Garuba said. “The systems have to be developed, designed with security in mind and security incorporated.”

Howard, in Northwest Washington, is a historically black university, and Garuba said he hoped the project would improve minority representation in cybersecurity. The university hopes to attract doctoral candidates to engage in cybersecurity research, Garuba said, and mentor and train leaders in the field.

“This project will enable us to attract more PhD students, doctoral students, who engage in very high-impact research, and then graduate much more of them,” Garuba said. “And that will also help the national goal, the national objective, of increasing, broadly, cyber-experts in the country.”