Grants & Funding

Northeastern to Expand Privacy Research to Cover Info Leaked by IoT Devices

Two universities will be receiving funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop new systems for crime-fighting. Northeastern U will focus on building a system for organizations and individuals to use for auditing and controlling personally identifiable information (PII) leaks from connected devices. George Mason University will lead a group of institutions and other partners in setting up a new center of excellence in "Criminal Investigations and Network Analysis."

Both awards were funded by DHS' Science and Technology Directorate, which runs an Office of University Programs. These are intended to be networks researchers and educators who focus on "high-priority DHS challenges."

The Northeastern project will receive $645,229 to continue work on a project that has been in development for several years at the school. "Revealing and Controlling Privacy Leaks in Network Traffic" (ReCon) uses machine learning, network trace analysis and crowdsourcing to identify PII leaks from mobile devices, doing so without knowing what an individual's PII is in advance.

The research team will build open-source applications to allow users to control how their information is shared with third-parties. The focus of the team will expand to encompass privacy leaks from Internet of Things devices as well.

"In today's digital age, we need new technologies that will empower us to control the sharing of our personally identifiable information by our connected devices," said Acting Under Secretary for Science and Technology William Bryan, in a prepared statement. "The new capability envisioned by this project will help protect our information from exploitation by cybercriminals and also build confidence in our growing online presence."

The grant to George Mason U will run for 10 years; initial funding, $3.85 million, is expected to cover first-year operations for a new center that will include other universities as well as law enforcement agencies to investigate patterns of criminal activities and forensics and develop strategies to predict and disrupt transnational crime. The center will also serve as an education arm to instruct students and professionals in the areas of prevention, prediction, investigation and prosecution.

The center will bring together faculty and researchers in social and natural sciences, policy and engineering.

"Mason is committed to elevating multidisciplinary research of significant societal impact," said Mason Provost S. David Wu. "This project highlights our institutional commitment and our strengths in multifaceted security research."

DHS said it chose the institution to lead the effort because of its experience in "working with the security and intelligence communities, coupled with strong criminology and sociology programs," noted Matthew Clark, director of DHS's Office of University Programs.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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