Northern Arizona University was recently awarded a federal grant for its work in cyber-engineering and cybersecurity.
The world today is more intertwined with technology than ever. Financial systems, cloud-based storage, data records and even something as common as email all rely on technology.
As technology becomes more integrated in society, the risk of cyberattacks from external hackers grows. In fact, according to the Cisco/Cybersecurity Ventures 2019 Cybersecurity Almanac, cybercrime will cost entities around the world approximately $6 trillion annually by 2021.
In an effort to curb the growth of cyberthreats, NAU is developing cutting-edge cybersecurity solutions.
With a three-year, $6.3 million grant from the United States Air Force, NAU professors Dr. Bertrand Cambou and Dr. Paul Flikemma will examine new hardware technologies to stay one step ahead of today’s — and, more importantly, tomorrow’s — hackers.
“One of the issues here is the hackers are essentially ahead of us,” Cambou said. “They always find new techniques and new ideas to fool existing assets, because at the end of the day, firewall and virus protections will be protecting an asset against a normal attack. Which means a lot of the cybersecurity is programmed to keep listing existing attacks. Which means the Department of Defense and the Air Force are looking at solutions to be ahead of the hacker — to do things that are essentially going to be disrupting the status quo.”
The project started as a pitch to the Air Force four years ago. Cambou and his team presented their cybersecurity solutions, and Air Force officials were fascinated by the idea, investing in a proof of concept. The team spent the following summer in a secure Air Force facility fleshing out ideas.
Cambou’s team is comprised of mathematicians, physicians, electrical engineers, software engineers and others. Because of the diverse talent pool on the team and the relatively hands-off structure of the university, the team can advance their ideas quickly, Cambou explained.
“You have to look at the award we got in that context — we are essentially looking at disruptive methods, we’re looking at post-quantum computing-capable methods,” Cambou said. “When I established the cybersecurity up here at NAU, I wanted NAU to be on the forefront of cybersecurity, not like the 400 programs that offer cybersecurity. The idea was to be one step ahead, and the idea was to be post-quantum computing-protected.”
The team plans to develop new cybersecurity solutions including “unclonable functions,” cryptography, blockchain and key distribution. Cambou mentions that these new methods will help technological infrastructures across industries, including medical, financial and transportation.
“We are more vulnerable to cyberattacks because it’s not just losing an email or something like that,” Cambou noted. “Now, you are talking about financial transaction, self-driving cars, the power grid, shutting down planes, shutting down hospitals — [we] as a society [are] more and more connected and [are] relying on cloud services… relying on cyber environments.”
Technology is growing, and hacking with it. With new threats to cybersecurity every day, the world has to adapt and develop new solutions to bolster its infrastructure. Thanks to Cambou and his team at NAU, that fortification is already underway.