Securing Our Computer Infrastructure

In an age in which cyber attacks are a very real threat, security of our vital information systems is essential.  The Center for Secure and Dependable Systems at the University of Idaho works with companies and government agencies to analyze and design software that keeps crucial infrastructure safe from outside harm. Six faculty members and approximately 20 graduate and undergraduate students evaluate code, write proofs, and create mathematical models to develop software tools that improve security related to power grids, transportation systems, the health care industry, and the financial sector.

The Center, established in 1999 within the Microelectronics Research and Communications Institute and newly independent as of this year, has worked with Idaho National Lab to determine ways to share energy research data securely. As a result of that partnership, Center founding member James Alves-Foss and colleagues developed a security framework that was not only adopted by Idaho National Lab, but also by the U.S. Department of Energy.


Alves-Foss expresses the need to protect against malicious attacks that could, for example, bring down an airplane or shut down a power grid: “One of the things we’re really interested in is systems that protect the critical infrastructure.”  He indicates that with a move toward increased automation, the importance of keeping systems secure is vital in limiting attacks and preventing damage.


In the next five years, Alves-Foss would like the Center to grow twice its size and become more inter-disciplinary, including the departments of mathematics, statistics, engineering, and business.  In addition, he’s interested in developing tools that would enable software engineers to quickly identify if code is secure.  He’s also eager to make the hardware in microprocessors more secure, thereby automatically protecting computer systems from infiltration.  As the Center grows, Alves-Foss envisions becoming a comprehensive resource for system security for the university and continuing to be a significant contributor to state and national security.


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