KU Professors Awarded Significant NSA Funding for Research on Advancing Cybersecurity Technology

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Two KU research professors were recently granted funding for projects from the United States National Security Administration’s Science for Security (SoS) research initiative. Perry Alexander, the AT&T Foundation distinguished professor of electrical engineering and computer science and director of KU’s Institute for Information Sciences (I2S), received a grant for his work on semantic remote attestation. John Symons, professor of philosophy and director for I2S’ Center for Cyber-Social Dynamics, was awarded a grant for his work on the vulnerabilities in online social environments. Both awards are for multi-year projects and are valued at $1.5 million combined.

Remote attestation is a promising approach for establishing trust in remote computer systems. Essentially, someone makes a request for an attestation, or confirmation, to a target. The target then returns evidence of its status in the exchange so the appraiser can make a determination about the attester and its target. Remote attestation evaluates the expectedness of a remote system. “Our program will put layered attestation on a firm semantic basis while providing semantically sound techniques, languages and tools that allow others to successfully field complex attestation systems,” Alexander says.

Symons work involves the resiliency of social systems. The project takes an interdisciplinary approach to understanding how information warfare disrupts social norms and institutions, with a focus on the role of internet technologies and sophisticated forms of social hacking that target critical social institutions. The attacks are honed on the social norms that form those institutions. “We hope to develop a new theoretical framework for understanding interventions,” Symons says. “In addition, we strive to achieve new machine learning models for the study of cyber-based attacks on norms as well as tactics for the defense of critical social institutions and historical insight on the development of information warfare developed by the Soviet Union and Russia.”

The NSA’s research directorate sponsors the SoS initiative to promote foundational cybersecurity science that is needed to mature the cybersecurity discipline and to support advances in cyber defense. KU, and the expertise developed by I2S, has risen to become a leading research institution on cybersecurity and is one of a handful of universities to be selected to support the SoS mission and understanding how cyberthreats impact social norms.