Cybersecurity has moved from an occasional-but-unnerving news item to a persistent, pervasive concern. As the White House has made clear, “cybersecurity is one of the most important challenges we face as a Nation. Advances in cybersecurity science and engineering are urgently needed to preserve the Internet’s social and economic benefits.” Neither Southern California, nor our Nation, is where it needs to be to protect against trade secret and other theft, compromise of private information, threats to our critical infrastructure, and, most recently, attempts to influence democratic processes. We believe that this is one of the grand technical and policy challenges of our time.
ISR is certainly not alone in recognizing these concerns. Indeed, UCI has wisely recognized both the importance and urgency of these issues with its recent establishment of the Cybersecurity Policy and Research Institute (CPRI) and its continuing support of the Institute for Software Research (ISR)’s broad mandate in addressing socio-technical issues associated with software engineering.
Going forward, ISR and CPRI will cooperate, jointly pursuing core research challenges as they pertain to software and other technological infrastructures used to enable vital public functions and to the protection of security, privacy, and civil liberty interests. Public infrastructure takes many forms, from supporting the electricity distribution grid, to ensuring the integrity of dams and reservoirs, to supporting the financial transactions that undergird the economy, to the health and welfare of people. With regard to mobile devices, in a unanimous 2014 decision, the United States Supreme Court recognized their indispensable and central role, stating that smartphones are “such a pervasive and insistent part of daily life that the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.” Such devices are routinely used in myriad personal and sensitive ways, including conducting day-to-day financial transactions, constantly tracking users’ locations and managing travel arrangements of all kinds, and handling vital healthcare information.
Additionally, the ability to lawfully secure and process digital evidence from mobile devices is increasingly vital to law enforcement’s criminal justice and public safety functions. Many criminal arrests now involve the seizure of smartphones or other mobile devices, with resulting digital evidence often making the difference between meting out justice and failing to do so. At the same time, however, it is increasingly clear that simultaneous advances both in security mechanisms (e.g., strong end-to-end encryption), intended to protect the consumers, and of “hacking” and other surveillance tools, raise meaningful and time-sensitive questions about privacy and civil rights and responsibilities. We have observed that, as vital debates around these issues rage, there is too little non-ideological, non-outcome-determinative, scientifically based research data. We aim to change that. “Follow the data.”
Professor Sam Malek (firstname.lastname@example.org) leads ISR’s work in this area. Bryan Cunningham (email@example.com) leads CPRI as its Executive Director. Several other ISR faculty are working on various aspects of these concerns, and we hope to add additional faculty in the future. Together ISR and CPRI will be actively addressing this vital area. Contact us to join the effort!
ISR collaboration with other faculty and groups on campus is not limited to cybersecurity. An additional recent focus, led by Associate Director Crista Lopes, is directed at open-source scientific data processing in support of astronomy. ISR’s contributions to the world of open-source systems are long-standing and well known (such as Dr. Walt Scacchi’s diverse contributions in this area, and our prior contributions to Web technologies). But the move towards working with astronomy is new and timely.
UC Irvine is particularly well positioned in the world of astronomy, thanks largely to its access to the Keck Observatories — twin 10m telescopes that have expanded our understanding of the universe like no other telescopes on Earth. UC contributes significant resources each year to maintain these (and other) world-class Astronomy facilities, and any astronomer at UC Irvine has privileged access to these powerful tools of exploration. However, UC Irvine astronomers share access with every other astronomer in the UC system, as well as astronomers at Caltech and Yale. One way to make the most of our access is to build upon UCI’s strength in software research. Keck instruments today are becoming so large and complicated that the software used to analyze the data can make all the difference between a sudden groundbreaking discovery and years of struggle. Professor Lopes is leading the effort to marshal resources and set technical directions for the development of software architectures and components for telescopic data pipelines, working with faculty in the School of Physical Sciences.
Whether cybersecurity, astronomy, or any interdisciplinary topic, it’s all a matter of cooperation. And recognizing that software is at the core of virtually every major scientific and business enterprise. ISR has a great and exciting future ahead!