(TNS) -- Jacksonville State is delving deeper into cybersecurity.

JSU announced Thursday it received $229,296 from the National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency, to train cybersecurity instructors on campus. In addition, the school was awarded a $134,924 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Security Agency to develop an intelligence monitoring system that is currently in “prototype form,” said Guillermo Francia, the JSU computer science professor who has been leading the school’s charge into cybersecurity.

Francia is the director of the campus’s state-of-the-art Critical Infrastructure Security and Assessment Laboratory, which five years ago developed with a $415,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

“The hope is to in three or four years come up with a commercial version of that prototype,” said Francia, who explained that the device would help protect critical infrastructure like our nation’s power grids and nuclear power plants and defense, water and transportation systems.

Cybersecurity around the world has come into focus with the rise of fear that independent hackers could affect many areas of a nation’s life if its systems were vulnerable.

Francia called cybersecurity “a hot area at universities around the country” and said it was “vital” that universities invest in teaching it.

“The fact is we’re becoming more and more dependent on cyber infrastructure,” he said. “Everyday life is online now — banking, shopping, all that stuff, even medical records are being served online. We’re talking about really sensitive information. So what happens if our cyber infrastructure goes down? A lot could go bad. It could be a disaster to everyday life.”

Alongside engineering professors at JSU, Francia will be training instructors and developing curriculum related to cybersecurity with the National Science Foundation Funding. He said applications for the two-day training seminar have been made available and that 10 will be selected to come to campus in June.

Francia said he has seen increased interest in cybersecurity from students in recent years.

“It’s an exciting field,” he said. “Things we do here, we teach students how to protect systems, and in order to teach them how to protect, they have to know how to hack into systems.”

The knowledge, like cybersecurity itself, he said, is “a double-edged sword.”

“It could harm you or protect you,” he said. “We’re hoping the good people would be on our side.”

©2015 The Anniston Star (Anniston, Ala.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.