University of Washington units share three-year NSF grant to make 'internet of things' more secure


Newswise — Several University of Washington schools and offices will team up to research how organizational practices can affect the interagency collaboration needed to keep the "internet of things" — and institutional systems — safe and secure. 

Cooperating in the work, funded by the National Science Foundation, will be the UW College of Built Environments, College of Arts & Sciences and Jackson School of International Studies as well as UW Facilities and UW Information Technology.

Devices connected to the internet of things, now becoming standard components in new buildings, can increase energy performance while reducing costs. But such highly connected sensors can also bring potential security vulnerabilities.

And though technical solutions to such security concerns exist, implementing them can be impeded by differences in communication and work cultures between workers in information technology, and operations and maintenance. These challenges, together with a policy environment that rarely regulates internet of things devices, can increase risks and leave buildings vulnerable to attack.

The NSF in August awarded a grant of $721,104 over three years to the Communication, Technology and Organizational Practices lab in the College of Built Environment's Construction Management Department to study how organizational policies and procedures can help — or hinder — the needed collaboration between information technology and operations and maintenance professionals. The lab is housed in the department's Center for Education and Research in Construction

Several UW faculty, staff and administrators are involved in the research. Co-principal investigators are Laura Osburn, a research scientist in the Center for Education and Research in Construction; and Carrie Dossick, professor of construction management. 

Jessica Beyer, lecturer, research scientist and co-director of the Jackson School's Cybersecurity Initiative also is an investigator, as is Chuck Benson, director of the UW's new risk mitigation strategy program for the internet of things.  

The three-year project will use the investigators' expertise in communication, collaboration, cybersecurity policy and internet of things practices to study

two critical areas:

  • How operations and maintenance and information technology groups currently share their knowledge and skills to improve security for the internet of things; and
  • How public policies and an organization's own rules on privacy and security impact how information technology and operations and maintenance teams collaborate

The team will work on these issues through ethnographic research of university cybersecurity efforts, interviews with information technology and operations and maintenance professionals and case studies of cybersecurity efforts in the built environments of higher education.

Also included in the research will include a graduate research assistant and undergraduate students from the Jackson School's Cybersecurity Initiative.  

The aim is to better understand how elements of organization, practice and policy interact and affect collaboration in keeping the internet of things safe and secure — and to provide clear examples of how such elements might help or hinder the necessary collaboration to implement smart building technologies.  

The interdisciplinary nature of the project is an important part of the approach, Osburn said. 

"What's most important about this project is finding ways to help technology experts from different departments and different disciplines work and communicate better together so that they can keep our buildings safe and make sure that the data that internet of things devices are collecting stay secure." 

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For more information, contact Osburn at lbusch@uw.edu, Dossick at cdossick@uw.edu, Beyer at jlbeyer@uw.edu or Benson at cabenson@uw.edu.

Learn more at the project website.

 

NSF grant #1932769    

 

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