Funds support multidisciplinary cybersecurity research

Early in 2016, the University of Delaware Cybersecurity Initiative awarded grants to six teams conducting research on a range of issues, from bio-cybersecurity and drone navigation to the use of social robots for education.

The research teams include faculty from the colleges of Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Health Sciences. Each project received a total of $30,000 over two years, including matching funds from the colleges.

Following are highlights of their progress to date.

Cybersecurity education

“Recent research has shown that storytelling is a powerful tool to shape our beliefs and behaviors,” says Chien-Chung Shen, professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences. “And for children, it’s an effective way to simplify complex ideas and make them actionable.”

Shen and his team are exploring the use of social robots, which interact and communicate with humans by following social behaviors and rules attached to their roles, to teach children about key cybersecurity issues.

So far, they have designed two storytelling plays on the topic of passwords by adapting the story of Little Red Riding Hood and using the context of Pokemon Go. In addition, they have initiated the design of other cybersecurity topics including denial of service attacks, phishing, viruses, wireless jamming attacks, firewalls and worms.

They are currently awaiting the delivery of a social robot so that they can begin prototyping the designed storytelling plays as well as scheduling experiments with children in UD’s Early Learning Center and Laboratory Preschool.

Social media safeguard

“The prevalence of social media has fundamentally changed how we obtain information and communicate with each other,” says Hui Fang, associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “However, social media posts often consist of a mix of gossip, misinformation and rumor, and misinformation on social media can spread rapidly.”

This research, which Fang is conducting with Lindsay Hoffman, associate professor in the Department of Communication, is aimed at building a real-time analytical tool that can help users determine whether a piece of information is “trustable.” The system is expected to benefit a wide range of users, including journalists, government organizations, intelligence agencies and emergency services.

Over the past year, the researchers have developed tools that can collect information from multiple online information resources such as Twitter and Google News. They have also built a dataset that contains a set of rumors to enable quantitative evaluation of the developed tools.

Secure drone navigation

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, have gained importance in a wide range of applications, such as search and rescue, reconnaissance and surveillance, and delivery services.

“The economic impact of their integration into the national airspace is predicted to be significant, but their use exposes us to unprecedented vulnerabilities due to ever-increasing malicious attacks,” says Guoquan Huang, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Our research is aimed at achieving attack-resilient, resource-aware, consistent UAV navigation, an enabling technique for numerous drone-based applications.”

So far, the researchers have validated their new approach, which uses a camera to provide additional information about the perceived environment and to aid traditional inertial navigation systems. The work, which tested the new system both on simulations and in experiments, was presented at the International Workshop on the Algorithmic Foundations of Robotics in December 2016.

Tracking cybersecurity employment

While many cities and regions have initiated economic development programs to attract cyber-related industries, such efforts must be grounded by an understanding of the role a region’s economic ecosystem—its institutional context—plays in determining the growth of particular industries.

“In an effort to move beyond ‘fuzzy’ definitions of cybersecurity employment and enable rigorous tracking and evaluation, we are analyzing cybersecurity employment, research spending and patents to characterize the institutional context of cybersecurity across the U.S.,” says Troy Mix, policy scientist in the Institute for Public Administration.

To date, he and his team have focused on developing a novel spatial dataset of cybersecurity-related activity in three categories: grants and contracts awarded by the federal government, National Science Foundation grants made to higher education institutions, and patents issued. These data have been collected from various federal databases and organized according to their geographic locations, with an emphasis on summarizing data on a county-by-county and metropolitan area basis.

Developing cyber leaders

This project will launch a four-year undergraduate program to attract, develop, and empower high-caliber students from a broad range of disciplines as the next generation of leaders who know how to shape the cultures that create secure digital infrastructures.

“The students will identify and understand the most pressing defense questions and work together to find practical interdisciplinary answers,” says Andy Novocin, assistant professor of practice in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

Participants will network with policy-makers, defense contractors, representatives from the financial industry and healthcare IT specialists to discuss security issues from a variety of perspectives; devise practical strategies to address simulated cyber-attack scenarios; perform security audits of local companies; and engage in case studies exploring the legal issues surrounding all aspects of cyber warfare.

Progress to date includes marketing efforts to identify and attract talented students. More than 30 confirmed applicants are in place for the first cohort, with the final number expected to be closer to 50.

Bio-cybersecurity working group

Security measures to protect biological and healthcare data lag behind those in other sectors such as financial services and the military, leaving individuals as well as groups of patients vulnerable to having medical and/or personal information stolen and misused.

This project, a joint venture between the UD College of Health Sciences and the University of Vermont’s Global Health Unit, brings together an interdisciplinary group of researchers from medicine, nursing, computer science, biology and cybersecurity to address the issue of protecting private health data, including financial, illness, medication use and genetic makeup information.

About the Cybersecurity Initiative

The mission of the University of Delaware Cybersecurity Initiative (UD CSI) is to establish UD as a center of excellence in cybersecurity that encompasses research, education, workforce training and development and promotes partnerships among the government, private and academic communities. UD CSI’s strategic focus is to serve as the cybersecurity hub for corporate America.

UD CSI is expanding the pipeline of skilled cybersecurity workers that our nation needs now and in the future; producing unbiased research and standard protocols for optimal security so that every type and size of business can protect itself; and helping individuals and businesses adopt best practices to handle this ever-growing threat.

UD CSI is developing programs through relationships with a broad array of partners, including government agencies, private industry and other academic institutions.

The seed grants program was established by the Office of the Provost to cultivate multidisciplinary cybersecurity exploration at the University as an essential component in contributing to the existing and future cybersecurity workforce.