BU Researchers on Team to Move Cybersecurity from Theory to Practice
The cutting-edge approach will be designed by researchers from Boston University, MIT, the University of Connecticut, and Northeastern University with funding from a five-year, $10 million Frontier grant from theNational Science Foundation,$5.3 million of which will go to BU. The effort, known as the Modular Approach to Cloud Security (MACS), will be led by Ran Canetti, professor of computer science at the College of Arts & Sciences and director of the BU Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cyber Security.
“Our goal is to build a cloud with clear and transparent security properties,” says Canetti. “If successful, this project will transform the way we currently build and argue about secure systems.” Canetti says the goal involves more than developing hardware and software: it depends on understanding new ideas. Still, he says “we hope to build an actual system.”
Azer Bestavros, a CAS professor of computer science and the founding director of the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering, says that, to date, people have talked about modular security in a theoretical sense, but making it a practical reality remains “a dream.”
“The problem with typical security on a cloud is that there is no way to check everything,” says Bestavros. “The systems are too big, and there are too many different technologies. Trying to secure the whole thing is a lost cause.”
To understand the MACS modular approach, says Bestavros, imagine making a house secure by securing every room and then combining all of the secure pieces. “It’s a very difficult problem,” he says. “We hope to take it from theory to practice in a real cloud.”
Among the many challenges and needs presented by the project are hardware with built-in secrecy and integrity properties; small and versatile operating systems that offer minimal functionality but are simpler and easier to analyze; privacy-preserving and verifiable memory access for outsourced applications; and algorithms for privacy-preserving, verifiable outsourced computations and database systems.
In addition to Canetti and Bestavros, the BU team working on the project includes Jonathan Appavoo, assistant professor of computer science at CAS; Sharon Goldberg, assistant professor of computer science at CAS and Hariri Institute Junior Faculty Fellow; George Kollios, professor of computer science at CAS; and Orran Krieger, a research professor in the department of computer science and Director of the Hariri Institute’s Cloud Computing Initiative.
The MACS project will use as a test bed the Massachusetts Open Cloud now being built in a collaborative effort by researchers from BU, Harvard, UMass Amherst, MIT, and Northeastern University, as well as the Massachusetts Green High-Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory(ORNL). Software developers will interpret early research results and code them into a privacy-preserving solution to allow users of the MOC to share systems data, a capability that will offer more choices for researchers conducting experiments on cloud computing and allow them to build high-performance systems at a fraction of the current cost
Bestavros says BU’s work on MOC helped the University win the latest Frontier award from the NSF. “That kind of work enables us to be competitive for things like this,” says Bestavros. “It really puts BU in the leadership of computing research.”
The MACS project includes an education component, which offers programs that familiarize technology professionals with cybersecurity and its central role in our society and economy. It will also support new programs that will introduce K–12 students to cybersecurity and to computer science more broadly. The K–12 program will target students from demographic groups that are under-represented in the sciences as well as students with exceptional academic potential.
A cross-disciplinary team, including researchers from the BU School of Public Health, Department of Computer Science, and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering were awarded the BU Social Entrepreneurship Award at the BU Tech, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll (TDRR) event on July 15, 2014 for their project titled, “Project SEARCH: Scanning Ears for Child Health.”
The research studies ear biometrics’ potential for solving patient identification challenges in global field settings. It involves undergraduate and graduate researchers and multiple course projects on science and technology that have potential to have significant impact on living conditions in lesser developed countries.
The team consists of:
- School of Public Health: Professor Christopher Gill, Elizabeth Ragan, Courtney Johnson
- Computer Science: Sarah Adel Bargal (recipient of the 2014 Hariri Institute Scholars Day Award for Transformative Computational Science Research)
- Electrical and Computer Engineering: Cliff Chan, Samuel Howes, Alexander Welles
In addition, the comparative study and development portion of this project has been done as a course project last spring for the courses:
- CAS CS 585 Image and Video Computing taught by Diane Theriault
- CAS CS 542 Machine learning taught by Peter Chin (CS Research Professor and Hariri Institute Visiting Fellow)
Christopher Gill, Elizabeth Ragan, and Courtney Johnson created the system and conducted initial feasibility studies using mouse clicks on images of ears. Fatih Cakir, a Computer Science doctoral student, heard about the project through Professor of Biomedical Engineering, Muhammad Zaman. Cakir subsequently followed up with a discussion of the past literature he had surveyed on ear biometrics. When Cakir served as the Teaching Fellow for CS 542 this past spring, he encouraged a team of students in CS 542 to develop the SEARCH ear scanning prototype for the iPhone in their course project. The result is promising, and the team plans to port it to the Android platform and conduct field testing soon.
The Boston Globe has a front page article in the Business section citing Sharon Goldberg’s work exposing a loophole that could be exploited by NSA to monitor electronic communication by US citizens.
A report from researchers at Harvard University and Boston University warns that the National Security Agency could freely monitor the electronic communications of American citizens by rerouting Internet traffic through overseas networks.
Loopholes that NSA can exploit to conduct largely unrestrained surveillance on Americans by collecting their network traffic “abroad” have been the focus of a recent study by Institute Junior Fellow, Sharon Goldberg, in collaboration with Axel Arnbak of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Quoting that study:
International communications intercepted on U.S. soil are regulated by FISA and are subject to oversight by Congress and the judiciary. By contrast, surveillance on Americans from abroad under EO 12333 is by and large the sole domain of the Executive branch. Designing a surveillance operation to adhere to two main criteria—to not `intentionally target a U.S. person’ (like e.g., bulk surveillance) and to be conducted abroad—allows the the operation to be regulated by the permissive legal regime under EO 12333, thus circumventing constitutional and statutory safeguards seeking to protect the privacy of Americans. [Read the paper]
Institute Junior Fellow and Computer Science Professor Sharon Goldberg was interviewed by Janet Wu of WCVB TV about the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision that Police can’t search cellphones without a warrant. More
Among last year’s graduates who accepted employment offers three months after Commencement, a plurality, 21 percent, went into technology and science, versus 16 percent in financial services, according to SMG’s Feld Career Center. BU Today spoke about the tech migration with Williams, author of Uncontrolled Risk: Lessons of Lehman Brothers and How Systemic Risk Can Still Bring Down the World Financial System (McGraw-Hill, 2010), about the collapse of investment firm Lehman Brothers in 2008.
How much does an “open” cloud cost? The Massachusetts state government is willing to invest $3 million in Boston University’s (BU) concept of a truly open cloud, one the institution hopes will spur positive change marketwide. Can this initiative really compete with offerings from big providers like Amazon, Google and IBM, or is it just another rebranding of cloud hype?
Bottom line? The MOC has the potential to transform public cloud computing by mimicking familiar retail experiences, delivering utility-grade resources and remaining accountable to stakeholders.
On May 15, 2014, Orran Krieger (Lead Investigator of the MOC project) co-presented the concept and plans for the Massachusetts Open Cloud at the OpenStack Summit, which was held in Atlanta May 14-16, 2014. The MOC is a new, non-profit public cloud created in Massachusetts. It will be the product of collaboration between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, five large research universities (BU, MIT, Harvard, NE, and UMass), and an array of private sector partners. It will be located at the 15MW Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MGHPCC) in Holyoke.
Research on the benefits of AirBnB compared to hotels by Hariri Junior Faculty Fellow, Giorgos Zervas, alongside John Byers (Hariri Faculty Fellow) and Davide Proserpio was published in The Economist.
In an upcoming interdisciplinary entitled “Loopholes for Circumventing the Constitution: Warrantless Bulk Surveillance on Americans by Collecting Network Traffic Abroad”, Institute Junior Fellow and Computer Science Professor, Sharon Goldberg, and her collaborator Axel Arnbak (a lawyer by training) reveal interdependent legal and technical loopholes that intelligence agencies of the U.S. government could use to circumvent 4th Amendment and statutory safeguards for Americans. They outline outline known and new circumvention techniques that can leave the Internet traffic of Americans as vulnerable to surveillance, and as unprotected by U.S. law, as the Internet traffic of foreigners.