SEARCCH: Improving cybersecurity through collaboration


Allie Arp, CSL

Scientific breakthroughs are rarely made in a silo. They take many different minds, teams, and ideas coming together to move science forward. In order to further the field of cybersecurity research, the Information Trust Institute (ITI)’s Tim Yardley, along with co-PIs from other organizations, are establishing a Sharing Expertise and Artifacts for Reuse through Cybersecurity Community Hub (SEARCCH).
Tim Yardley
Tim Yardley

Currently, the majority of cybersecurity research is conducted “ad hoc,” with many of the experiments being irreproducible one-offs. This doesn’t allow others to confirm the findings or build on them in their own work, meaning progress in the field is slow, especially considering the speed of new cyber developments. In order to improve this working model, SEARCCH hopes to develop an infrastructure to allow for greater communication among researchers.

“We aim to improve the overall scientific quality of cybersecurity research by enabling experiment reproducibility and needed knowledge transfer so that researchers can more easily build upon the work of others,” said Yardley, principal research scientist and associate director for ITI.

The group hopes to accomplish this by leveraging other scientific community projects to establish a community collaboration portal that will provide an open, online “knowledge hub” to support experimentation, testing, and education of the latest cybersecurity research. Other organization partners are USC-ISI, University of Utah, and SRI. Together, they plan to develop more momentum for scientific reproducibility in the field of cybersecurity-related research.

Allowing researchers to focus more on the experiments themselves, instead of the process, will potentially lead to more innovation and higher quality solutions. One of the components helping researchers focus on their progress is on the University of Illinois campus. The Cyber-Physical Experimentation Environment for Research (CEER) allows researchers to model cyber-physical domains, without having to build the infrastructure themselves. The ability to test ideas without having to front the costs and develop the deep domain experience for specialized hardware is crucial to helping researchers meet their objectives without exceeding their budgets.

The imagined work flow of the hub.
The imagined work flow of the hub.

“The CEER capabilities are the gold standard for experimentation in the electric power grid and have been a keystone of over $100M of ICS research over the past decade,” said Yardley. “This includes the DARPA RADICS program which is focused on validating mission-critical technology in support of blackstart restoration of the US Grid.”

 In addition to Yardley and his co-investigators, there have already been fifteen Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) professors or professionals sign letters of collaboration in support of the SEARCCH’s efforts. Buy-in from the CISE community will be key to the success of this venture, as it will help build out and add to the database of information.

“Active community involvement is critical to our project's success,” said Yardley. “Through community outreach, we will recruit from the broader CISE community to create a body of active cyber security research participants.”

Recruiting collaborators will be one of the main goals of the first year of the project.  The group wants the development of the hub to involve active participation from members to ensure it meets their needs. In the following two years of the three-year project, the group will expand the offerings of the hub and move it toward becoming a sustainable community resource.

This project is funded by the National Science Foundation.