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Government Reveals Cybersecurity Research Agenda

The White House wants to invest in R&D to increase the "trustworthiness of cyberspace," including economic incentives for cybersecurity.

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The federal government is developing a cybersecurity research and development agenda that would focus on three priorities that could lead to "game-changing" technologies to improve the "trustworthiness of cyberspace," the National Science Foundation announced in a Federal Register notice Thursday.

NSF is working through the inter-agency Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program with the Department of Homeland Security, the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, and others to lay out a strategy that would see the government invest in research on economic incentives for cybersecurity, the development of "trustworthy spaces" online, and ways of managing the network in such a way to make work chaotic for would-be attackers.

NITRD will be detailing the research more thoroughly in an event in Berkeley, Calif., on May 19, and will follow that event up with the establishment of an online forum, the Cybersecurity R&D Kickoff Forum, which will allow public comment on the plans.

The government will be looking for ideas on how to refine or enhance its research themes, the challenges each theme presents, any associated use cases or state-of-the-art activities, and how and whether the private sector should be involved.

According to a presentation by Chris Greer, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's assistant director for IT R&D, research into economic incentives should include the development of a framework of cyber economic theory and a look at possibilities like "cyber insurance."

"The lack of meaningful metrics and economically sound decision making in security misallocates resources, and so we must promote economic principles that encourage the broad use of good cybersecurity practices and deter illicit activities," the Federal Register notice said.

The second of the three priorities, so-called "tailored trustworthy spaces," would look into secure "sub-spaces" or segments on the Internet likened to the environment that currently secures trusted Internet transactions. "The cost of simultaneously satisfying all the requirements of an ideal cybersecurity solution is impossibly high, so we must enable sub-spaces to support different security policies and different services for different types of interaction," Greer's presentation, which was posted online, said.

That effort would include, according to the presentation, the development of a framework or group of frameworks including the allowed interactions, rules, procedures, and applicable legal framework for participating objects in one of these "sub-spaces."

The third prong of research, which NSF calls "moving target," is an attempt to develop ways to make it harder for attackers to attack, though the details seem unclear. "The cost of attack is asymmetric, favoring the attacker, and so defenders must increase the cost of attack and must employ methods that enable them to continue to operate in the face of attack," the Federal Register announcement said.

Greer's presentation discussed the possibility of what he called "controlled movement across multiple system dimensions" which would increase the diversity and complexity of targets and thus the costs in time, resources, and exertion to attackers.

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