Air Force and Nimbis Services tap Ohio State and UF for hardware security research

Posted: October 17, 2019

The Ohio State University College of Engineering and Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering at the University of Florida are collaborating to advance the area of hardware-enabled cybersecurity by developing new analog and mixed signal (AMS) domain security, and to provide a comprehensive workforce training and education program in microelectronics design and security. 

The Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR), Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and Nimbis Services, Inc., provider of the Trusted Silicon Stratus (TSS) cloud platform, recognized the importance of these research and education efforts by awarding two joint-university Center of Excellence (COE) grants to the universities.

University of Florida

The combined Ohio State-University of Florida team boasts strong expertise in all areas of hardware security for analog devices and systems, including design, simulation, fabrication, validation, testing, physical inspection, and analog emissions.

The Air Force is particularly interested in growing research in this space because much of the focus and progress made to date in hardware security has been in the digital domain, which does not extend well to AMS systems. This leaves a major portion of electronics systems insecure, since the AMS side of electronic hardware comprises the highest share of the semiconductor and communication markets. Additionally, there is an increasing demand for a well-trained cybersecurity workforce in all government agencies, national labs and industry sectors, making a comprehensive training effort in microelectronics security a critical necessity.

The Center for Enabling Cyber Defense in Analog and Mixed Signal Domain (CYAN) has received a $5 million grant from the joint sponsorship of AFOSR and AFRL as well as an additional $3.4 million from the joint universities. The center also aims to attract additional funding through cooperation and partnership with national labs, defense industry and commercial partners.

Hosted at Ohio State and UF, CYAN will be a joint Center of Excellence conducting multidisciplinary research in the area of hardware-enabled cybersecurity through innovation and development of new AMS domain security. 

Waleed Khalil, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Ohio State, and Mark Tehranipoor, the Intel Charles E. Young Preeminence Endowed Chair Professor in Cybersecurity at UF, will serve as co-directors of the center. Khalil conducts research at the Ohio State’s ElectroScience Laboratory.

“The objective of the CYAN COE is to bring together expertise from each of the team universities to advance the science of analog security, analog emissions, and analog and RF forensics,” said Khalil.

“Experts in these areas will address some of the fundamental challenges and questions related to securing the design, fabrication, and operation of AMS technologies while also developing information fusion and predictive analysis algorithms of analog emissions and analog forensics,” said Tehranipoor.  

The two universities also teamed up to develop a holistic training program in microelectronics design and security to address the demand for a well-trained micro-­electronics ­security and trust workforce in government agencies, national labs and industry sectors. Named MEST (The National MicroElectronics Security Training Center), the program is supported by Nimbis and will receive almost $1 million in the first year, with annual performance-based additions of up to $2 million in each of the following four years.

“Nimbis is proud to support the CYAN and MEST centers,” said Robert B. Graybill, president and CEO of Nimbis Services. “In the wake of continued malicious cyber activity directed at the United States, the necessity for advancements in AMS hardware security, as well as the education and training of a skilled workforce to support the technology, is essential. Through the CYAN and MEST centers, students will have the opportunity to collaborate and take online cybersecurity classes hosted on our Trusted Silicon Stratus cloud platform.”

Tehranipoor and Khalil will serve as co-directors of MEST as well, which will also be hosted jointly at UF and Ohio State.

“We will devise an ecosystem of training modules and options with an emphasis on experiential learning to suit the needs of diverse groups of industry/government practitioners and students,” said Tehranipoor.

Organizers and attendees of the kickoff event
Organizers and attendees of the kickoff event

The center will offer on-site, on-campus and online courses. Students who complete the necessary curriculum or course requirements will receive college credit, Khalil explained, while practitioners will be awarded certificates of accreditation.

“The centers will serve as a main platform to attract and retain a large pool of domestic graduate and undergraduate students to the field of AMS domain security,” said Khalil. “Students and engineers will be trained across multiple disciplines covering hardware security, algorithms, data analytics, as well as AMS design and measurements, which will allow them to have a large toolbox from which to solve diverse problems.”

“Ultimately, the engagement with our research on AMS domain security, in addition to the training courses we develop, will drive skills among our students and engineering practitioners that can enable new levels of cybersecurity in both analog and digital systems, which is vital to our military and industrial sectors,” Tehranipoor commented.

A joint launch event for both Centers of Excellence was held at Ohio State on Friday, September 13. Co-directors Khalil and Tehranipoor presented an overview of the two centers to members of the Air Force Research Laboratories (AFRL) from Wright Patterson Air Force Base, dignitaries from the AFOSR, leadership from the engineering colleges and research offices of both universities, and members of the industry consortium.

This article was adapted from The Ohio State University’s College of Engineering. 

Category: Research