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Carnegie Mellon just got a $2M grant from the NSA

CMU professor William Scherlis

Above: CMU professor William Scherlis

Image Credit: CMU

The National Security Agency is in a giving mood.

The world’s largest intelligence agency has given $2 million to Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science department to kick off an extensive joint research endeavor called a “lablet” on the hot topic of Science of Security, of SoS.

The program starts today.

The lablet, or small lab initiative, is a collaborative project involving officials from the NSA and 15 CMU computer science faculty members. Twenty students, PhD candidates, and associates are also on board, said professor William Scherlis, director of CMU’s Institute for Software Research.

“The NSA has been around for a long time. The project is about high risk, high reward, and a long horizon. It’s about anticipating the challenges coming our way in the future,” Scherlis, who has worked with the NSA previously, told VentureBeat.

The joint research lablet project contains “all the work of basic science without any publication restrictions. The point of all this is a build a network of SoS thinking,” Scherlis said.

“The overarching goal is to bring scientific rigor to research in the cybersecurity domain,” a NSA spokesperson told VentureBeat.

The lablet initiative has identified five “hard” problems within the SoS header, but the team at CMU will focus on two of them: scalability-composability and human behavior-usability.

The first portion of CMU’s lablets research relates to large and complex software systems that are constructed using many different components. The second, composability, will entail researchers studying the dynamics necessary for building secure networks.

“This influences how we structure our systems and what kinds of languages, models, and tools we use. We will learn how to engineer systems that are more readily assured,” Scherlis said.

Seven of CMU’s internationally renowned computer science departments will join the effort, including the Institute for Software Research, the computer science department, CyLab, the electrical and computer engineering department, the engineering and public policy department, the Information Networking Institute, and the Human-Computer Interaction Institute.

Scherlis pointed out that most of this country’s university and college research programs are funded by the government, and the lablets initiative is no different.

“How can we construct large comprehensive systems and be comfortable making claims about security?” Scherlis said.

“This is open, basic science research,” he said. The NSA “has a very extensive network in the scientific community.”

The University of California, Berkeley, is also involved in the lablets program.

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