Boston University Researchers Get $10 Million to Build Modular Cybersecurity System

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A project headed by Boston University researchers has received a $10 million grant to build a cloud-based modular cybersecurity system. The grant is a Frontier Award, awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) as part of its Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program.

Researchers from a number of New England Universities including MIT will work on the Modular Approach to Cloud Security (MACS) program at Boston University. They will build several separate security components, and build the system from these smaller pieces. The project will address a range of challenges, including building hardware with built-in secrecy and integrity, minimal operating systems with versatility and functionality, memory access for outsourced applications which is secure and verifiable, and algorithms for retaining privacy for outsourced computations and databases, according to a report by BU Today.

“Our goal is to build a cloud with clear and transparent security properties,” Ran Canetti, a professor of computer science at Boston University and lead researcher on the project said. “Furthermore, we intend to make it modular, thus enabling the construction of cloud services from basic components in a security-preserving way. If successful, this project will transform the way we currently build and argue about secure systems.”

“The problem with typical security on a cloud is that there is no way to check everything,” Azer Bestavros, a CAS professor of computer science and founding director of the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering told BU Today. “The systems are too big, and there are too many different technologies. Trying to secure the whole thing is a lost cause.”

The project will be tested on the Massachusetts Open Cloud, which is a non-profit public cloud provided by a partnership between private sector and public sector groups, including some of the universities participating in MACS.

MACS researchers will code interpretations of early research results into a privacy-preserving solution for Massachusetts Open Cloud Users to share systems data. The NSF said this idea “has no precedent” and will allow cloud researchers “to build high-performance systems at a fraction of the current cost.”

The Frontier awards program has given $74.5 million in grants to 225 cybersecurity projects, including the Center for Encrypted Functionalities, which received a grant as part of the same announcement.

The NSF awarded three of those grants, totalling $20 million in August, and with over $30 million committed in just under a year, the Frontier program seems to be ramping up.

Cybersecurity concerns continue to abound in the wake of larger, more persistent attacks, a shortage of skilled professionals, and international tension over online surveillance.

Photo by Cydney Scott, via BU Today

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