UVA Engineering Helps Launch Center Aimed at Ensuring Electronic Devices are Secure
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - The University of Virginia School of Engineering is launching a new center that will be focused on ensuring electronic devices are designed to protect the people who use them.
The Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust, known as CHEST, is now a national science foundation research center. Around 15 undergraduate and PHD students are leading the center's work. The students work with industry and government partners to understand which devices are at risk of cyberattacks.
CHEST wants to build consumer trust in technology, even as robots and electric cars become more popular. One of the center's current projects is to develop advanced chargers for electric vehicles.
"The interest is into the future that the majority of cars on the road will be electric vehicles. The charger network needs to protect, the vehicles and protect itself from counterfeits, and from tampering. We need to be able to trust the devices that are in the vehicles and in the chargers. So this is a great application of what we're developing together in this center," said James H. Lambert, CHEST.
UVA is working with five other universities, including the University of Cincinnati and Northeastern University, which are also part of the new center. The group will have its first joint meeting in December.
The University of Virginia will receive close to $750,000 from the National Science Foundation, with matching industry funds over a five-year period.
Release from the University of Virginia School of Engineering:
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The University of Virginia School of Engineering is a founding partner of a national research center that is tackling an increasingly urgent challenge for industry: How to ensure that electronic devices and systems of connected devices are designed to protect the interests of consumers and communities that rely on them.
The Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust, known as CHEST, earned a prestigious designation as a National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center as of Oct. 1. The center is a joint initiative of the University of Virginia, University of Cincinnati, Northeastern University, University of Connecticut, University of Texas at Dallas and University of California, Davis. It is the largest National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center in 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. All of these pieces rely on circuits, software, microprocessors, and so on, to work,” said James. H. Lambert, professor in the UVA Engineering Department of Engineering Systems and Environment who led UVA’s effort to help create the new center.
“Vulnerabilities to cyberattacks can be introduced during design, manufacturing or any stage of the product lifecycle. 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,” said Lambert, who also is director of the Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems at UVA.
The partnering institutions, led by the University of Cincinnati, created the center in 2018 to tackle these research challenges and to innovate and disseminate new technologies, practices and guidelines for stakeholders. A key piece of the center’s mission is developing a workforce for government and industry by supporting increased education and research opportunities for graduate students and faculty.
“Building consumer trust in technology is central to our work,” said John M. “Marty” 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.”
The center is supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and industry, government and nonprofit members. The Industry-University Cooperative Research Center announcement comes with National Science Foundation grants to each of the participating universities through September 2024. UVA anticipates a total National Science Foundation award of $750,000 and matching industry funds over the five-year period.
Together with each school’s matching contributions and support from the center’s industry and nonprofit members, funding for the project will total $9 million.
The center’s corporate members include Verizon, Honeywell, Booz Allen Hamilton, Systems Planning and Analysis, and others. The Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, the Air Force Research Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories are among the federal agencies that are members. 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 container freight transport infrastructure, are key members at UVA’s site.
“With our Industry-University Cooperative Research Center designation, we will be working in an established and tested framework, ensuring that our diverse community of researchers will get the most out of our collaborations with industry and government partners,” Emmert said. “Together, we can do the research and produce the underlying science that will benefit society as a whole.”
For example, at UVA, Lambert is working with Fermata Energy, a Charlottesville company developing a technology using bi-directional chargers for electric vehicle batteries that turn the vehicle into an energy storage device. The battery can return power to the electricity grid, potentially earning money while the vehicle is parked and helping to stabilize the grid during peak usage. The chargers will be manufactured in Danville, Va., and were developed in collaboration with UVA Engineering with funding from the Virginia Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission. Lambert is examining cybersecurity risks to the grid as more users adopt electric vehicles and take advantage of bi-directional charging technology.
“The Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust will add worldwide visibility to the work that our department and its affiliated centers, such as UVA’s interdisciplinary Link Lab for cyber-physical research and the Center for Risk Management of Engineering Systems — as well as that of our partners — are doing in the area of security and trust of integrated systems,” Lambert said.
The Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust is one of two National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center sites for UVA’s Department of Engineering Systems and Environment. In 2017, the University joined the Center for Visual and Decision Informatics under Professor Peter A. Beling’s leadership.
“The National Science Foundation encourages these partnerships because the nation and world benefit from a stronger engineering workforce and transfer of technology from the lab to the real world,” said Brian Smith, engineering systems and environment chair.
“It’s incredibly important that we pursue these kinds of relationships and take advantage of the resources that are available,” Smith said. “I am grateful to Professor Lambert for leading on this and to our partners across the country who share our desire to use the work we do for the greater good.”
For information on collaborating with the center, please visit nsfchest.org.