New consortium seeks to counter threats to cybersecurity

Dec. 2, 2009 at 8:55 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- A new consortium bringing together university academics and industry professionals is setting new targets for advanced research to combat threats to cybersecurity.

Although the project is focused on the United States, its activities and findings are seen critical to widening the quest for more effective solutions to counter the threats posed in cyberspace by organized crime, drugs and terror gangs.

In October the Obama administration mounted a monthlong cybersecurity awareness campaign. The presidential proclamation riveted attention on the dangers posed by Internet abuse. Business, industrial and scientific organizations responded by shifting priorities to delve deeper into cybercrime, which carries huge financial costs and is seen as a major risk to the economy and national security.

The new initiative comes from defense and security manufacturer Northrop Grumman Corp., which invited three leading U.S. cybersecurity research institutions, Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh, Pa.; The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.; and Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., to join a Cybersecurity Research Consortium.

Grumman said the consortium will seek to advance research in cybersecurity and "develop solutions to counter the complex cyber threats that face our economy, our freedoms of information, and our national security."

The consortium is unique in composition, approach and mission, Grumman said. It will "accelerate the pace of taking novel ideas to real-world application and thus address our nation's most pressing cyber threats."

Robert Brammer, chief technology officer, Northrop Grumman for information systems, said, "We have been working in the cybersecurity domain for more than 20 years, and I have never seen the threats so intense."

To help mitigate the threats, it was important to bring together industry and academic institutions, Brammer said. "By combining the creative intellectual freedoms of academia with the full spectrum capabilities within Northrop Grumman, we can accelerate the pace of taking novel ideas to significant application. We have an obligation to our clients and our nation to invest in new technologies to get ahead of the cybersecurity threat. This consortium will serve to organize some important U.S. organizations to help increase our nation's security in cyberspace."

Northrop's pronouncements are the latest in a series of industry initiatives to home in on cybersecurity -- and also to generate new revenue streams in the process. Industry sources said institutions outside the United States, particularly those in Europe and Asia, agreed with the severity of the problem but still need to do more. In most cases, the sources said, institutions outside the United States were likely to take the lead from U.S. measures to deal with the threat.

With globalization and interactivity, a major cyber threat incident within the United States is seen likely to affect non-U.S. organizations as well, industry sources said.

The Northrop Grumman Cybersecurity Research Consortium members maintain laboratories and centers that include Carnegie Mellon's CyLab, MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, and Purdue's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security.

The universities were chosen for their long-term, leading-edge research in cybersecurity and their national standing in the arena. Northrop Grumman said the industry-academic collaboration will seek solutions to cyber threats facing the critical systems, whose demise would threaten national security.

Recent reports on cyberattacks listed Congress, various administration departments and organizations among victims of cybercrime. Removing the threat has already cost those institutions millions of dollars, industry sources said.

The consortium will take on some of the world's leading cyber problems, including attribution in cyberspace, supply chain risk, and securing critical infrastructure networks. The consortium initially will sponsor 10 projects and provide graduate student fellowships while continuing to expand the portfolio of research.

Adrian Perrig, technical director of Carnegie Mellon CyLab and a professor of electrical and computer engineering, and engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon, said academics will work side by side with Northrop Grumman researchers as part of the project.

Northrop Grumman Corp. is a global security company, employing 120,000 people worldwide.

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