Building Trust in Tech: UT Dallas-Backed Research Center Gets National Science Foundation Designation

UT Dallas is a founding partner in The Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust, a.k.a. CHEST, which ensures electronic devices are designed to protect people and communities.

A national research center wants to tackle a challenge that’s increasingly urgent: Making sure that electronic devices and IoT systems are designed to protect the interests of the people and communities that rely on them.

The University of Texas at Dallas is a founding partner of The Center for Hardware and Embedded Systems Security and Trust, also known as CHEST. The CHEST center has been designated as a National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center, according to a release.

With the new designation, CHEST is now the largest National Science Foundation Industry-University Cooperative Research Center thanks to the number of participating universities. Participants in the joint initiative, in addition to UTD, are the University of Virginia, the University of Cincinnati, Northeastern University, the University of Connecticut, and the University of California-Davis.

Building on consumer trust is central to the mission of the group.

“Attacks happen, and the systems we design are not always going to repel them,” Emmert, who’s also an electrical engineering and computer science professor at the University of Cincinnati, said. “Then it becomes, how does the system, for example, an autonomous vehicle or infrastructure such as the power grid, recover from any harm that is caused? Is the user protected?”

Vulnerabilities to cyberattacks can be introduced during design, manufacturing, or at any stage of the product lifecycle, according to James H. Lambert, a professor in the University of Virginia’s Engineering Department of Engineering Systems and Environment who led the university’s efforts to help create the CHEST Center.

“There are enormous research challenges associated with the design, protection, and resilience of electronic hardware and embedded systems, which are components of a larger system or device with a dedicated function,” Lambert said. “All of these pieces rely on circuits, software, microprocessors, and so on, to work.”

The research conducted at CHEST is wide-ranging and can include anything from anti-reverse engineering and anti-tampering to secure communication protocols, vulnerability analysis, and infrastructure safety and resilience.

The research is coordinated with the involved universities and its partners to “advance knowledge of security, assurance, and trust for electronic hardware and embedded systems.”

CHEST has been funded through National Science Foundation (NSF) grants and support from enterprises and nonprofits.

Corporate backing

Corporate members include Verizon, Honeywell, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Systems Planning and Analysis, and federal agencies include the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and Sandia National Laboratories.

Being designated as an Industry-University Cooperative Research Center also means that each university will get NSF grants through September 2024. While the amount is not yet known, UVA specifically is expecting a total of $750,000 with matching industry funds, according to a release.

A vital part of CHEST’s mission is to develop a workforce supported by increased education and research opportunities for graduate students and faculty. The center works with industry and government partners to understand “the real issues,” helping it to ask the right questions. That way, Lambert said, the team can address the priorities for security, assurance, and trust across integrated systems.

Alex Edwards contributed to this report.

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