Information Trust Institute block of abstract images
Information Trust Institute block of abstract images

Illinois receives $2.1 million from NSA to help advance security of cyber systems

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was one of four universities selected to receive funding for cybersecurity research through the National Security Agency’s Science of Security (SoS) initiative. Science of security refers to the emerging field in which the practice of security research is strongly shaped by scientific methodologies, such as hypothesis testing and experimental repeatability.

The NSA awarded $2.1 million to Illinois’ Information Trust Institute to create the Science of Security for Systems Lablet. The Illinois Lablet will focus on security at the systems level, with the ultimate goal of providing methodologies for end-to-end security analysis of systems ranging from the power grid to the Internet.

“Illinois has the breadth and depth to tackle this complex issue from a systems level, which is essential in protecting our nation’s critical infrastructure,” said David Nicol, director of the Information Trust Institute and the Franklin W. Woeltge Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “Our goal is to develop scientific principles for enhancing security instead of the ad-hoc approach that has historically marked research in this field.”

Cybersecurity is a national imperative, with the White House and Congress calling for greater protection of the country’s cyber infrastructure. NSA’s SoS initiative seeks to bring scientific rigor to research in this domain by addressing five “hard problem” areas. The Illinois Lablet works on all five, with particular emphasis on “predictable metrics.”

“We’re trying to combat the very reactive nature of cybersecurity,” Nicol said. “A hole is found, a patch is applied and so on. It’s a losing cycle. We need to create a foundational basis for being able to analyze the security of systems.”

In addition to Illinois, Carnegie Mellon, North Carolina State University and the University of Maryland received SoS grants; the institutions were selected from among nearly 300 applicants.

The Illinois Lablet will employ 18 faculty members and numerous postdoctoral and graduate students, drawing upon ideas in mathematics, computer science, computer engineering and other disciplines. It will include collaborators from Dartmouth College, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Newcastle University (Great Britain), Technical University of Valencia (Spain), Rice University, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Southern California.

The research builds on work conducted through Illinois’ first Science of Security Lablet, established with $1 million in seed money in 2011. The Illinois Lablet will collaborate with researchers at the other NSA lablets, as well as colleagues in academic, industry and national labs.