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National Science Foundation Forms Cybersecurity Research Center

$19 million committed to interdisciplinary study of computer security over five years

by / April 25, 2005
The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced the formation of a science and technology center to study ways to strengthen the nation's cyber defenses. Eight universities will collaborate in the study of ways to improve the nation's cyber security and form the Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology (TRUST) Center.

The NSF has committed $19 million to the project over the first five years with a possibility for $20 million in additional funding over the next five years after the initial term expires.

The formation of the TRUST center comes at a time when concern over the security of critical infrastructure and personal data has reached a fever pitch.

Last month saw a rash of companies disclosing that personal information in their care regarding customers and U.S. citizens had been illegally accessed. The U.S. Senate banking committee started to hold hearings on increased regulation of so-called data brokers such as LexisNexis and ChoicePoint. In addition, in recommending increased research into cybersecurity, a report by the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee found that "information infrastructure of the United States is highly vulnerable to disruptive domestic and international attacks," and recommended increased support for fundamental research in cybersecurity.

"The cybersecurity community has long feared that it would take an electronic Pearl Harbor for people to realize the scale of disruptions possible from a concerted attack by terrorists," said S. Shankar Sastry, UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, and the principal investigator and director of the TRUST center.

The center will investigate key issues of computer trustworthiness in an era of increasing attacks at all levels on computer systems and information-based technologies. The center will investigate the convergence of information technology with such critical infrastructure sectors as finance, energy distribution, telecommunications and transportation and develop ways to accomplish its mission of increasing the trustworthiness of critical information systems through the study of the interaction between technology and sociology, politics, economics and other disciplines.

"The overlapping and interacting trends force us to recognize that trustworthiness of computer systems is not an IT (information technology) issue alone," say center leaders.
The researchers stress the focus will extend beyond mere cybersecurity to trust. They hope to enable private software vendors as well as local and federal government agencies to design, build and operate more secure information systems that control critical infrastructure. The center plans research into ways to keep systems running properly even as they are being attacked--a principle known as "degrading gracefully under attack."

The center will look at systems problems through modeling and analysis, development of secure embedded systems, and integration of trusted components and secure information management software tools.

The center will also include an education component to reach out to K-12 and undergradauate students to train the future computer security researchers who will develop the next generation of trustworthy systems.

Participants in the TRUST Center lead by University of California at Berkley include, Cornell University, Canegie Mellon University, Mills College, San Jose State University, Stanford University and Vanderbilt University. Other entities participating in the center include Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Symantec, Microsoft, Bell South, Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel, Qualcomm, Sun Microsystems and ESCHER, a consortium of companies including General Motors, Raytheon and Boeing.

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