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Intel enlists universities in security wars

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Intel has launched a security-research collaboration with major US universities, saying that all research results will be made public, and all software developed in the program will be open sourced.

The collaboration between Intel and university faculty and graduate students will be the second in the Intel Science and Technology Center program, a $100m effort that was announced this January.

The first ISTC focused on visual computing, and paired Intel researchers with Stanford University and affiliates at the Universities of California at Berkeley, Davis, and Irvine; the University of Washington, Harvard, Cornell, and Princeton.

The new security-focused ISTC wil be centered at the University of California at Berkeley, and will also involve researchers at the University of Illinois, Duke, Carnegie Mellon, and Drexel.

As with the Stanford-based ISTC, the Berkeley-centered effort will have one principal investigator from the lead university, UCB professor of computer science David Wagner, and one from Intel, senior principal engineer John Manferdelli.

Speaking on Tuesday at the annual Research@Intel event in Mountain View, California, Manferdelli explained one of the reasons security research is needed. "The cloud will benefit you by allowing the synchronization of all your activities," he said, "but right now we don't have a very good way of ensuring users that their data – users, companies people – are used only in the manner that they expect."

But the Berkeley ISTC will not be focused solely on the cloud. Manferdelli said that efforts will focus on five major areas:

  • Thin intermediation layers to make client devices more secure when performing multiple simultaneous tasks, or when working with other devices
  • Improvements in security measures to be offered to third-party app developers to, for example, improve smartphone security
  • Security at the data level – not just the device level – to improve personal privacy in the cloud and elsewhere
  • Improved network-architecture security for safer data transport, including the ability for devices to "help" one another ensure security and monitor intrusions
  • The development of better predictive security analytics and metrics

About that last area of research – predictive analytics – Manferdelli attempted a bit of boffin humor: "I used to say that I really wanted a job where you could get money for predicting history," he told his audience. But then he went on to lament the lack of good predictive analytics in security research today.

"In this activity," he said, "we'd actually like to build analytics that predict the future safely, not tell you what happened in 1993."

Summing up the goals of the security ISTC, Manferdelli said: "We'd like to see, just as everybody – that the digital world we create, every activity in which we participate, we'd like to be safe."

A reasonable goal – and one that will certainly benefit from Intel's collaboration with university faculty and grad students to develop openly shared security-related IP and open-sourced security software.

After all, as Intel CEO Paul Otellini has repeatedly said, security is the "third pillar" of computing, sharing that triumvirate of responsibility with power and performance. ®

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