Securing software, hardware, systems, and the safety and privacy of those who access them, relies on an integrated network of technological, legal, and social approaches. Research initiatives at the Center for Cybersecurity reflect this diversity of topics and approaches, as well as the application of the interdisciplinary expertise required to implement effective security solutions.
Below are very broad descriptions of the primary research categories in which CCS faculty and students are proving to be defensive game-changers.
Artificial intelligence is playing an increasingly critical role in the field of cybersecurity, both as a tool that can be leveraged as a threat, or as a solution to that threat. At the Center for Cybersecurity, researchers are working to better understand the former, through initiatives like a recent study showing the potential vulnerabilities in AI generated code, while expanding its use for the latter through projects that include producing simulated bugs to improve detection and testing methods. (See related research projects under Disinformation and Deepfakes, Privacy and Data Protection, Supply Chain Security)
According to the FBI’s 2021 Internet crime report, more than $6.9 billion was lost in the United States to cybercrime activities in 2021. These attacks can range from the use of cyber technology for illegal surveillance and online harassment, to the manipulation of access to in-demand items through dark web marketplaces. Research initiatives from the Center for Cybersecurity have addressed strategies for mapping and disrupting cybercrime networks, and designed legal and policy interventions that can deter criminal networks from raising, storing, moving, and using funds.
When it comes to cybersecurity, who is responsible for developing and enforcing policies to adequately address current and future risk? Our work on cyber governance aims to identify the appropriate roles and obligations of various stakeholders—including private companies and government agencies. This includes issues of technical capacity, the regulatory environment, and commercial incentives. CCS research in Cyber Strategy works to sharpen the boundaries between cybersecurity and intelligence authorities, the ways in which cyber capabilities are integrated into larger strategic structures, and the development of international laws and norms.
Disinformation can take several forms, be it a digitally manipulated photograph or an anonymous ad campaign spreading false information. Faculty and students of the Center for Cybersecurity are working on several fronts to maintain image integrity, and to craft legal and regulatory responses to disinformation. Through its affiliated project, Cybersecurity for Democracy, CCS is also conducting research and disseminating information about “the online threats to our social fabric,” as well as developing strategies to counter them.
The Internet-of-Things (IoT) is primarily associated with “smart home” devices like Alexa. But, IoT technologies are also integral parts of industrial systems, and even provide software updates to the electronic control units on automobiles. Despite the growing number of IoT applications, these devices often run insecure software and engage in obscure privacy practices, such as sending data to unknown third parties. The Center for Cybersecurity is currently analyzing the security and privacy threats from real-world IoT devices from all over the world through the IoT Inspector project. Data gathered using this tool is shared with consumers to educate them about the risks, and with other researchers who can use the information to mitigate these threats. Other CCS research teams have introduced practical strategies to protect software updates for automotive electronic control units and other systems that rely on software over the air update strategies. This research goes hand in hand with other areas of CCS, including Privacy and Data Protection, Securing Cyberphysical Systems, and Supply Chain Security.
Computing technology has become an intrinsic part of manufacturing operations across all industrial sectors. And, as promising new technologies, such as digital manufacturing, have emerged, threats to their security have not been far behind. At the Center for Cybersecurity, an interdisciplinary team of researchers is tackling these threats on several fronts. In addition to conducting research in this expanding arena, CCS has sponsored or co-sponsored a series of panel discussions and workshops, Researchers at CCS also investigate solutions for other hardware security issues, such as improving the secure properties of encrypted microchips, and the detection of hardware Trojans.
Data and privacy security tools and strategies have become critical to businesses and government agencies as well as to individuals. CCS is expanding these technologies on a number of fronts, including harnessing emerging technologies like homomorphic encryption. The Center has also identified emerging targets, such as current and future IT/communication systems, IoT devices, and social media. Lastly, CCS researchers are also investigating how data mining can be used to infringe on our privacy, and how systems and laws can be redesigned to limit these intrusions.
Cyberphysical systems are mechanical systems monitored and controlled by computers. Attacks aimed at cyberphysical systems can have catastrophic effects on electric power generation and delivery, traffic flow management, public health, national economic security, and more. Our work focuses on enhancing the security of these systems, including emerging technologies like 5G.
Securing systems and the software that powers them requires a multitude of approaches. Current research initiatives at CCS address compromise resilience, virtualization security, design and implementation of distributed content networks, memory forensics, embedded systems, security and human behavior, and the delivery of secure updates to repositories, automobiles, and smart devices. A common thread among all these initiatives is that they are based on deployments in real world systems.
In the computer science field, security has generally been piecemeal in nature, rather than a holistic operation that can guarantee the security of a project from end to end. Faculty and students at the Center for Cybersecurity have been actively engaged in changing this perspective by developing and implementing both software and hardware supply chain defenses. These strategies include identifying flaws in microchips, ensuring consistency and quality control in digitally-manufactured products, adding transparency and accountability to each step in the software supply chain, and utilizing financial incentives as a defensive strategy.