With $9M in grants, Khalil launches two new cybersecurity research centers with University of Florida

Posted: December 30, 2019

Only by training the next generation of engineers toward cybersecurity research can true advancements in future technologies become a reality.

With roughly $9 million in first-year grant funding, The Ohio State University College of Engineering has teamed up with the University of Florida to do their part. Ohio State Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Waleed Khalil launched two new Centers of Excellence (COE) with The Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering at the University of Florida, sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), and Nimbis Inc., a developer of collaborative cloud communities. The plan is to advance the area of hardware-enabled cybersecurity through innovation and development of new Analog and Mixed Signal (AMS) domain security and to provide a comprehensive workforce training and education program in areas related to microelectronics design and security.

Both university teams boast strong expertise in all areas of hardware security for analog devices and systems, including design, simulation, fabrication, validation, testing, physical inspection, and analog emissions. The sponsors recognized the importance of these research and education efforts by awarding two joint-university Center of Excellence (COE) grants.

The first effort, CYAN, or Center for Enabling Cyber Defense in Analog and Mixed Signal Domain, received a $5 million grant from AFOSR, as well as an additional $3.4 million from the joint universities to get started. Hosted at both universities, CYAN will conduct multidisciplinary research in the area of hardware-enabled cybersecurity through innovation and development of new AMS domain security. Khalil and Mark Tehranipoor, the Intel Charles E. Young Preeminence Endowed Chair Professor in Cybersecurity at UF, will serve as co-directors.

“The objective is to advance the science of analog security, analog emissions, and analog and radio frequency (RF) forensics," Khalil said.

“Experts in these areas will address some of the fundamental challenges and questions related to securing the design, fabrication, and operation of AMS technologies while also developing information fusion and predictive analysis algorithms of analog emissions and analog forensics,” said Tehranipoor.

The Air Force is particularly interested in growing research in this space because much of the focus and progress made to date in hardware security was in the digital domain, which does not extend well to AMS systems. This leaves a major portion of electronics systems insecure, since the AMS side of electronic hardware comprises the highest share of the semiconductor and communication markets. Additionally, there is an increasing demand for a well-trained cybersecurity workforce in all government agencies, national labs, and industry sectors, making a comprehensive training effort in microelectronics security a critical necessity.

To address this demand, the two universities also teamed up to develop a holistic training COE in microelectronics design and security. The program, dubbed MEST (The National MicroElectronics Security Training Center) supported by Nimbis, will receive almost $1 million in the first year, with annual performance-based additions of up to $2 million in each of the following four years.

MEST, also hosted jointly at UF and OSU, will focus on developing a holistic, well-rounded training program in microelectronics security. Drs. Tehranipoor and Khalil will serve as co-directors of the MEST Center as well. On-site, on-campus and on-line courses will be offered for college credit, while practitioners will be awarded certificates of accreditatio.

“The centers will serve as a main platform to attract and retain a large pool of domestic graduate and undergraduate students to the field of AMS domain security,” Khalil said. “Students and engineers in our programs will be trained across multiple disciplines covering hardware security, algorithms, data analytics, as well as AMS design and measurements, which will allow them to have a large toolbox from which to solve diverse problems.”

Dr. Tehranipoor said their research in AMS domain security will drive skills in students toward new levels of cybersecurity in both analog and digital systems, which is vital to the military and industrial sectors. 

The joint launch event for both centers, with a grant value of more than $9 million in the first year, was held at Ohio State on September 13.