cybersecurity

A North­eastern Uni­ver­sity team of experts led a con­gres­sional briefing in Wash­ington on Wednesday that addressed the emerging vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in cyber­se­cu­rity that threaten con­sumers, industry and gov­ern­ment at all levels.

As law­makers are con­sid­ering major cyber­se­cu­rity leg­is­la­tion, the Northeastern del­e­ga­tion of fac­ulty and industry experts joined U.S. Reps. William Keating (D-MA) and Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Home­land Secu­rity Sub­com­mittee on Over­sight, Inves­ti­ga­tions and Man­age­ment, as well as Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, director of the Center for Strategic and Inter­na­tional Studies Home­land Secu­rity and Coun­tert­er­rorism Pro­gram, to call for a robust, coor­di­nated fed­eral research and devel­op­ment pro­gram to improve the resilience of cyber­se­cu­rity net­works and infrastructure.

Citing numerous existing threats such as for-profit hacking schemes, mal­ware aimed at weak mobile devices and attacks tar­geting major infra­struc­tures that con­trol key soci­etal resources, pro­fes­sors Engin Kirda and William Robertson said the nature of the threats today are influ­enced by our daily depen­dency on the Internet making intruders more sophis­ti­cated than ever before.

“The Internet itself has become a crit­ical infra­struc­ture,” said Kirda, the Sy and Laurie Stern­berg Asso­ciate Pro­fessor of Infor­ma­tion Assur­ance in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence and the Depart­ment of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering, and the director of Northeastern’s Insti­tute for Infor­ma­tion Assur­ance. “Research can play a big role in devel­oping auto­mated approaches to detect and mit­i­gate attacks.”

North­eastern, he added, is well posi­tioned to take a lead role in this area through col­lab­o­ra­tions in areas such as psy­chology, crim­i­nology and economics.

Kirda is the cofounder and codi­rector of the Inter­na­tional Secure Sys­tems Lab, a col­lab­o­ra­tive effort of Euro­pean and U.S. researchers focused on com­puter secu­rity issues. Robertson, assis­tant pro­fessor in the Col­lege of Com­puter and Infor­ma­tion Sci­ence and the Depart­ment of Elec­trical and Com­puter Engi­neering, is also part of this inter­na­tional lab.

Joining Kirda and Robertson in the dis­cus­sion were Mel Bern­stein, senior vice provost for research and grad­uate edu­ca­tion, and former director of the Depart­ment of Home­land Security’s Office of Uni­ver­sity Pro­grams, and Stephen Flynn, codi­rector of the university’s Kostas Research Insti­tute for Home­land Security.

Flynn noted that America is more exposed than any other country in terms of phys­ical infra­struc­ture tied to IT, pointing to the country’s power grid, water and waste­water sys­tems. He said the United States must sup­ple­ment its pre­ven­tion and defense efforts with a greater focus on resilience – a key area of focus at the Kostas Research Institute.

The White House has recently intro­duced leg­is­la­tion that seeks to bol­ster national cyber­se­cu­rity pro­tec­tions to meet the chal­lenges pre­sented by evolving dig­ital threats, though critics have pointed to the bill’s require­ment that pri­vate com­puter sys­tems meet cer­tain secu­rity standards.

At the briefing, the North­eastern team pushed for the bill to incor­po­rate the impor­tance of including uni­ver­si­ties as part­ners in under­taking research that will lead to devel­op­ment of new cyberde­fense technologies.

Keating said devel­oping strategic part­ner­ships between gov­ern­ment, the pri­vate sector, busi­ness and acad­emia is crit­ical to over­coming cyberthreats. He said last week’s mas­sive power outage in Boston to illus­trate the kind of mayhem a poten­tial attack could create. “We saw what hap­pened with the power grid going out. You can only imagine a cyber­at­tack having a far more reaching effect,” Keating said.

The briefing aligns with Northeastern’s com­mit­ment to meeting soci­etal needs through use-inspired research addressing global chal­lenges in secu­rity, health and sus­tain­ability. The uni­ver­sity is devel­oping inno­v­a­tive national cyberde­fense research and solu­tions through work at the Kostas Research Insti­tute, the ALERT (Aware­ness and Local­iza­tion of Explosives-Related Threats) Center – a multi-university Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­rity Center of Excel­lence – and its Insti­tute for Infor­ma­tion Assurance.

North­eastern Pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun was also recently appointed to the U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Security’s Aca­d­emic Advi­sory Council.

“This whole area, more than any I’ve seen, is an area of part­ner­ships — pri­vate sector, cor­po­rate, defense — but one of the most impor­tant part­ners is acad­emia, par­tic­u­larly in Mass­a­chu­setts — and what it can bring to move these issues for­ward, give us an under­standing of the threats, and work together to pre­vent some of the threats,” Keating said.