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The National Science Foundation (NSF) this week gave the University of California, Berkeley, the lead role in a $19m government-funded cybersecurity research project.

Berkley heads a team of eight universities (including Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University, Mills College, San Jose State University, Smith College, Stanford University and Vanderbilt University) from across the US forming the new Team for Research in Ubiquitous Secure Technology (TRUST). The project, supported by IT industry heavyweights such as Cisco, HP, IBM, Microsoft and Symantec, is one of just two NSF Science and Technology Center schemes to be funded this year. The other project, led by the Kansas Science and Technology Centre, will undertake research into polar ice sheets. TRUST is expected to receive nearly $19m over five years, with the possibility of a five-year, $20m extension.

Republican congressman Sherwood Boehlert, chairman of the House Science Committee, described the academics in the TRUST consortium as a "dream team" of information assurance and complex systems research. Praise indeed especially considering Berkley was obliged to warn 98,000 people that their personal data had been leaked after the theft of a laptop from its graduate school admissions office. Perhaps those boffins at Berkeley ought to be directing part of their attention closer to home instead of worrying about cyber apocalypse, like TRUST centre director S. Shankar Sastry.

"The cybersecurity community has long feared that it would take an electronic Pearl Harbour for people to realize the scale of disruptions possible from a concerted attack by terrorists," said Sastry, UC Berkeley professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, and the principal investigator and director of the TRUST center.

Such nebulous fear-mongering is not to our taste but it fits well with the prevailing rhetoric from the Bush administration and doubtless did Sastry no harm in winning leadership of the project. The US government drive to increase support for fundamental research in cybersecurity follows a March report by the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee which said that the "information infrastructure of the US is highly vulnerable to disruptive domestic and international attacks."

A release from Berkley outlines its goals for the TRUST project.

TRUST researchers have set their sights on developing new technologies that will radically transform the ability of organizations - from private software vendors to local and federal agencies - to design, build and operate trustworthy information systems that control critical infrastructure. They will go beyond research into how to protect networks from attacks and develop ways to keep systems running properly even when intrusions occur - a concept known as "degrading gracefully under attack."

The center will look at systems problems through modelling and analysis, development of secure embedded systems, and integration of trusted components and secure information management software tools.

The researchers emphasize that the mantra for the center is TRUST, going far beyond cybersecurity research alone. They pointed out that the center relies upon close, interdisciplinary collaboration with experts in economics, public policy, social science and, significantly, human-computer interface.

The "mantra is TRUST". Blimey. Fire up the joss sticks and crank up the whale song - this lot have been sharing PowerPoint presentations with the strategy boutique mob, it would seem. Flippancy aside the TRUST centre has promised to conduct an extensive education and outreach component. It’s hoped this school and university educational program will lay the groundwork for training scientists and engineers who will develop the next generation of trustworthy systems. ®

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