UCI and BlackBerry win National Science Foundation convergence accelerator grant

October 12, 2022

Bryan Cunningham

The National Science Foundation has awarded $750,000 to a multidisciplinary team from the University of California, Irvine’s Cybersecurity Policy & Research Institute (CPRI), its Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences and BlackBerry to address the challenges around secure communications on public 5G networks.

The funds are being allocated under the NSF convergence accelerator program, which supports projects that tackle national problems.

“In safety- and security-critical applications, whether involving disaster response, international humanitarian assistance, connected vehicles, critical infrastructure like the power grid, or defense-related operations, lives and vital interests depend on the ability to communicate reliably and securely across public 5G networks,” said Bryan Cunningham, CPRI executive director. “More broadly, economic, trade, and individual needs can be enabled and expanded by the ability to securely communicate across such public networks.”

Cunningham added that in the case of connected vehicles, the mass adoption of 5G-based vehicle-to-everything technologies has the potential to significantly improve the overall safety of increasingly chaotic and dangerous streets, allowing for advanced levels of connectivity, data sharing and improved coordination between cars and infrastructure, bicycles, pedestrians and scooters.

“A secure 5G enabled network could have the processing capability and download speeds to warn vehicles of hazardous traffic issues, even predict dangerous situations far ahead of the driver’s line of sight,” said Cunningham, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer and White House National Security Council attorney. “It could provide information to drivers – whether human or autonomous – to avoid crashes and even steer clear of those situations and intersections that are most likely to cause them.”

But Cunningham suggested that today’s 5G networks are not able to provide customers with continuous and real-time indicators of the security of these public networks, even for higher-security connections called “secure slices.”

“This makes it impossible for users to follow current best practices of Zero Trust security, which require continuous authentication so that trust is earned rather than assumed,” he said. “Whilst properly implemented end-to-end encryption can protect the confidentiality and integrity of transiting data, it cannot prevent compromises along the network itself.”

Such attacks can exfiltrate location and other metadata, harvest communication for future quantum-enabled or other offline decryption and degrade or even eliminate the ability to communicate, according to Cunningham.

Collaborators in this newly funded, multi-stakeholder project between UCI and BlackBerry will formulate techniques for assessing the trustworthiness of software running within 5G network infrastructures and will develop technical foundations and legal and regulatory frameworks for Cooperative Zero Trust, a novel ZT framework to enable cooperation across traditional ZT boundaries for 5G networks.

“UCI is thrilled to partner with BlackBerry in this exciting project that will reach across disciplines, including computer science, engineering, law, and regulation,” Cunningham said. “Solving this complex set of problems is important to our national and economic security and will save lives. It is precisely the type of challenge for which CPRI was created – bringing together multiple disciplines in academia, business, and government to solve hard but vitally important challenges. We are grateful to the National Science Foundation for supporting this work.”

“Cooperating on cybersecurity really is a grand challenge,” noted Charles Eagan, BlackBerry’s chief technology officer.  “It’s not just a technical problem. If 5G operators and their clients are going to work together to share cybersecurity intelligence in real-time, we will have to also solve policy and regulatory challenges and build a trustworthy foundation for our cooperation. I’m very excited to partner with UCI and CPRI in this innovative program to help address this grand challenge.”

– Source UCI News