Auburn University is a NSA/DHS National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education and Research

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Securing a Virtual World

- Auburn Cyber Research Center recognized for its research.

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The mission of the Auburn Cyber Research Center is to be a nationally recognized leader in all forms of software engineering with emphasis on secure systems, mobile and embedded systems, wireless systems and systems that interact directly with people for both civilian and military applications. Additional areas of emphasis include modeling and simulation, information technology, cyber forensics and cyber risk analysis. The Auburn Cyber Research Center integrates engineering technology into cyber research.

CYBER RESEARCH AT AUBURN UNIVERSITY

The Auburn Cyber Research Center is focused on performing cutting-edge and applied research in a variety of areas. The ACRC has a wide variety of capabilities with particular emphasis and expertise in the areas of information assurance, cyber security, and modeling and simulation. Led by The ACRC is staffed in such a way that it is able to engage on projects for a variety of customers both in the public and private sectors, as well as at various levels of sensitivity.

Since the early 2000s, the ACRC has maintained an emphasis on performing meaningful cyber security research. The ACRC has engaged in sponsored research from a variety of public and private sponsors, performing work across a wide variety of security domains. For example, Auburn has performed meaningful research in the highly technical field of software vulnerability analysis. This work involved the reverse engineering of commercially produced software packages to search for security flaws that may have been previously undiscovered.

Alternatively, the ACRC has engaged in research to ensure that security flaws are detected before a product can be shipped. Auburn researchers have conducted several research studies into the area of secure software architectures. This work has focused on developing frameworks to ensure that software and software-intensive systems is free of major security defects before the product(s) can be delivered to a customer.

The ACRC also engages in a variety of specific cyber-security research initiatives. AU personnel are currently investigating new methods of authenticating a user without relying upon usernames and passwords, but instead focusing on the ways in which they manipulate the operating system. Researchers are also investigating new forms of malware detection and prevention, particularly on malware that attempts to break out of virtual environments when detected. The ACRC has also begun investigating novel methods for crowd-sourcing research.

Cyber security is only a part of the ACRC’s research mission, though. Among other topics, the CRC has engaged in some noteworthy work in the field of modeling and simulation. This is most clearly evidenced by the work the Auburn Cyber Research Center has performed for the US DoD’s Joint-IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). JIEDDO needed a mechanism to provide combat medics with revised training to respond to the threat posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). With US forces engaged in two conflicts in geographically distant locations, using traditional education methods was inefficient and infeasible. The Auburn CRC provided the framework that could be used to provide training to combat medics anywhere in the world, using only a computer workstation. The training worked by placing the student within a virtual 3D space highly similar to the “first person shooter” style video games that are familiar to many younger soldiers.

Figure 1 -- ACRC Training Platform for IED Injuries

Based on the JIEDDO project, the ACRC has recently begun work on a technology known as User Defined Simulation. The drive for User Defined Simulation is best exemplified by the need for a specialized training platform for IED injuries. The US DoD already had virtual reality training platforms that were similar to the platform described by the ACRC. These platforms did not convey the proper knowledge to trainees, though, as the injuries and treatments related to IED blasts differ from other weapons. Unfortunately the cost of modifying an existing platform was prohibitively high. The ACRC has begun researching novel ways of creating simulation models that can be easily controlled and manipulated by non-technical operators (i.e. the user). This research, when completed, will allow users to make minor modifications to existing simulation models that previously would have cost considerable time and money to modify.

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