NSF Awards $6M Grants for Internet of Things Security

The National Science Foundation awarded $6 million in grants to fund projects working toward securing networked things.

The National Science Foundation announced on Friday that it has awarded $6 million in grants to fund projects working toward securing networked things.

The grants are part of a partnership with Intel Corp., and were awarded to separate projects at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania.

The awards are among the largest geared toward the security of the so-called Internet of Things, interconnected devices that encompass everything from smart utility meters, to medical devices, home appliances, vehicles, and more.

“Advances in the integration of information and communications technologies are transforming the way people interact with engineered systems,” said Jim Kurose, head of Computer and Information Science and Engineering at NSF in a statement. “Rigorous interdisciplinary research, such as the projects announced today in partnership with Intel, can help to better understand and mitigate threats to our critical cyber-physical systems and secure the nation’s economy, public safety, and overall well-being.”

The Stanford-based project, guided by principal investigator Philip Levis and a team that includes prominent cryptographer Dan Boneh and colleagues Dawson Engler, Keither Weinstein and Mark Horowitz, aims to deliver strong cryptography to applications running on IoT devices.

“The goal of the research is to make it possible for two developers to build a complete, secure Internet of Things application in three months,” the researchers describe in their abstract.

Most IoT applications run on small embedded computers and are entrusted with, in some cases, critical jobs in manufacturing or health care facilities, for example. The concern, Levis said, is that developers writing these applications have relatively little experience in proper networking or cryptography implementations.

“Our research aims to lay the groundwork and basic principles to secure computing applications that interact with the physical world as they are being built and before they are used,” Levis said. “The Internet of Things is still very new. By researching these principles now, we hope to help avoid many security disasters in the future.”

Four principles govern the Stanford project, Levis said, guiding how applications will be built, how they will communicate via an “embedded gateway cloud” to the Internet, how they will be secured with end to end encryption, and finally a new software-defined hardware design that cuts down on the potential for vulnerabilities.

The Penn project, meanwhile, focuses on the development of a simultaneous prevention, detection and recovery system for automotive and medical systems, a statement said.

“With this award, we will develop robust, new technologies and approaches that work together to lead to safer, more secure and privacy-preserving cyber-physical systems by developing methods to tolerate attacks on physical environment and cyberspace in addition to preventing them,” said Insup Lee, who leads a team at the University of Pennsylvania, along with colleagues at Duke University and the University of Michigan.

Specifically, the framework will develop new lightweight cryptography techniques for detection and recovery time from attacks. It also will include work on a state estimator and sensors that understand a baseline for an attack-resilient state. The researchers are also working on a privacy assurance and security framework that takes into account human factors as well as the operating context of the system, they said in their abstract.

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