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07-21-2009

Clarkson University to Use Part of $1.2 Million NSF Grant for Cybersecurity Research

A Clarkson University researcher and his colleagues will use $1.2 million in funding from the National Science Foundation to improve the security of cyber transactions. Clarkson, the project’s lead institution, will see $480,000 from the grant.

"Elected officials in Washington are calling for a national priority response to the daily attacks on our government and private computer data," says Clarkson University President Tony Collins. "Clarkson University is pleased to play a role in developing the software, which could play an important role in alleviating this problem by helping to secure our country’s cyberspace."

Principal investigator, Prof. Christopher Lynch of Clarkson, and researchers from SUNY Albany, University of New Mexico, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Naval Research Laboratory will build software to analyze cryptographic protocols.

Lynch, chair of the division of math and computer science, says that the Clarkson funding will support cutting-edge development by a number of young researchers and senior faculty members.

"People use cryptographic protocols every day-- for example when buying something over the Internet, or even just surfing. But how do we know that our transactions are secure?" says Lynch. "In order to secure transactions, a cryptographic algorithm is used to secure the data by encryption. This encryption algorithm is used inside a protocol."

A protocol is the process by which computers send messages back and forth to convince each other they are who they say they are, and to create a secret key for encryption. Protocol security reaches beyond simply the internet and includes, for instance, ensuring the privacy of wireless phone calls or preventing the intrusion into critical infrastructure control systems.

"Even if the encryption is perfectly secure, there could be ways for a malicious intruder to attack the protocol and steal information or pretend to be somebody else," says Lynch.

Many protocols in use today have been shown to have such vulnerabilities years after they were put in use. Therefore, Lynch says, there is a need to create software to analyze protocols and automatically detect attacks.

The research by Lynch and his colleagues should increase the power of existing cybersecurity software because it will combine properties of the encryption algorithm along with the structure of the protocol.

Protocol developers will be able to use this software to analyze security properties of the protocol being developed and find attacks early in the process in order to build more secure systems.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in six alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues. Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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