New center aims to ensure connected devices are secure

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A new national research center it looking into how to ensure that electronic devices and systems of connected devices are designed to protect the interests of consumers and the communities that rely on them.

The University of Virginia School of Engineering is a founding partner of this research center, called the Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust, or CHEST.

According to a release, the center was designated as a National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center on Oct. 1.

It's a joint initiative between UVA, the University of Cincinnati, Northeastern University, the University of Connecticut, the University of Texas at Dallas, and the University of California, Davis.

The release says this is the largest National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center based on the number of participating universities.

“There are enormous research challenges associated with the design, protection and resilience of electronic hardware and embedded systems, which are components of a larger system or device with a dedicated function,” said James H. Lambert, a professor in the UVA Engineering Department of Engineering Systems and Environment who led UVA's efforts to help create the center. “All of these pieces rely on circuits, software, microprocessors, and so on, to work.”

He also highlights some of the problems these kinds of systems can face.

“Vulnerabilities to cyberattacks can be introduced during design, manufacturing or any stage of the product lifecycle,” added Lambert. “By working with industry and government partners to understand what the real issues are and to ask the right questions, we are addressing the priorities for security, assurance and trust across integrated systems.”

The release says a key piece of the center's mission it developing a workforce for government and industry that is supported by increased education and research opportunities for graduate students and faculty.

“Building consumer trust in technology is central to our work,” said John M. Emmert, an electrical engineering and computer science professor at the University of Cincinnati and the project's lead investigator. “Attacks happen, and the systems we design are not always going to repel them. Then it becomes, how does the system, for example an autonomous vehicle or infrastructure such as the power grid, recover from any harm that is caused? Is the user protected? Our research interests are wide-ranging, from anti-reverse engineering and anti-tampering to secure communication protocols, vulnerability analysis, and infrastructure safety and resilience.”

Funding to support this center has come through grants from the National Science Foundation as well as industry, government and nonprofits.

The designation as an Industry-University Cooperative Research Center also comes with NSF grants to each of the participating universities through September 2024.

The release says UVA expects a total NSF award of $750,000 and matching industry funds over the five-year period.

In total, funding for the project across all of the universities will be $9 million.

Corporate members of the center include Verizon, Honeywell, Booz Allen Hamilton, Systems Planning and Analysis and others.

Federal agencies that are involved include the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Logistics Systems, a public-private partnership that works with the Port of Virginia on freight transport infrastructure, are key members at UVA.

At UVA, Lambert will be working with Fermata Energy, a Charlottesville-based company that develops technology using bi-directional chargers for electric vehicle batteries that turn the vehicle into an energy storage device.

That battery can then return power to the energy grid and potentially earn money while the vehicle is parked.

These chargers will be manufactured in Danville and were developed in collaboration with UVA Engineering with funding from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission.

Lambert is also going to examine cybersecurity risks to the grid as more users buy electric vehicles and potentially take advantage of this bi-directional charging technology.

Another NSF Industry-University Cooperative Research Center at UVA's Department of Engineering Systems and Environment is the Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust.

For more information on CHEST, click on the link in the Related Links box.

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