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New funding enables work on Internet policy and cybersecurity for key infrastructure

Work made possible by grants from the Internet Policy Research Initiative.
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Today, MIT’s cross-disciplinary Internet Policy Research Initiative (IPRI) announced that it has awarded $1.5 million to a select group of principal investigators for early-stage Internet policy and cybersecurity research projects.

“Each project is aimed to support innovative research in their respective fields and result in new insights that can guide policy makers in making wise choices on pressing Internet policy challenges,” says IPRI founding director Daniel Weitzner, who is also a principal research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).

The seed fund grants cover five interdisciplinary projects, with lead researchers from across campus including the MIT Sloan School of Management, the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), and CSAIL.

Sloan economist Andrew Lo and CSAIL computer scientist Vinod Vaikuntanathan are receiving funding for their project on measuring systemic cybersecurity risk. Vaikuntanathan, who studies cryptography, says that the economic effects of cyber attacks are hard to assess, quantify, and transfer. To address this problem, the team plans to create a multi-party platform to safely collect data to give markets and firms better cybersecurity risk information.

“Understanding the nuance of cybersecurity risk in our critical infrastructure will help policymakers assure that the proper incentives are in place to reduce the threat of catastrophic attacks,” says Weitzner.

CSAIL principal research scientist Howard Shrobe will receive funding for his work using artificial intelligence to analyze and protect urban infrastructure vulnerabilities, with an emphasis on water networks and transportation systems. To improve the cybersecurity of urban infrastructure, he will be working to create a system that automatically identifies “attack graphs” aimed at hacking such structures. He will also be working to develop a program that automatically creates countermeasures that could be combined with local policy to protect smart cities.

Sloan economics professors Simon Johnson and Stuart Madnick, who is also an IT management scholar, are receiving funding to study cybersecurity impacts on international trade. They plan to address the risks related to government use of spyware and malware in Internet-connected products. They will cover issues such as high-risk products, long term impacts on trade, and voluntary standards with the idea of ensuring that policy makers understand the potential impact of their decisions.

Sloan lecturer Chintan Vaishnav and CSAIL principal research scientist Karen Sollins will explore frameworks for improving citizen services in Indian “smart” cities. The team is collaborating with the eGovernment Foundation, a non-governmental organization bringing digital governance to India’s 325 cities, to leverage technology and analytics to improve urban governance. They plan to study the security and privacy implications of open data, as well as identify new management systems and open application program interfaces (APIs) — all of which are seen to have a role in improving government services.

DUSP Professor Lawrence Susskind will use his funding to create a comprehensive cyber guidebook for navigating negotiations with attackers of urban infrastructure. With critical structures and facilities constantly under attack, managers and operators need to be prepared to interact with assailants in real time. Susskind plans to work with urban infrastructure managers to simulate attacks to make a cyber blueprint for discussions and deliberations.

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