UCI News

UCI to lead $10 million NSF-funded center on protecting personal data privacy

Researchers will address technical, social and policy challenges of networked world

June 12, 2020
UCI to lead $10 million NSF-funded center on protecting personal data privacy

Irvine, Calif., June 12, 2020 — The National Science Foundation has awarded $10 million to support a new research center devoted to personal data privacy in an increasingly networked and instrumented world. The center will be hosted and led by the University of California, Irvine and is in collaboration with Northeastern University, the University of Iowa, the University of Southern California and Spain’s IMDEA Networks Institute.

Under the umbrella of the NSF’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace Frontiers program, the UCI-led team will work to develop a stronger theoretical understanding of how data collection over the Internet can affect individual privacy, in addition to its societal and economic implications. They also will create new software and hardware tools and produce policy recommendations centered on the safeguarding of personal data collected by web servers, mobile applications and a broadening range of linked entities on the internet of things.

During the five-year initiative, the interdisciplinary collaborators will engage in research, educate students and early career scientists, and explore ways of transitioning innovations into practice.

“It is an honor and responsibility to lead one of NSF’s signature projects to address the timely and important problem of personal data protection on the internet,” said principal investigator Athina Markopoulou, Chancellor’s Fellow, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science at UCI. “Our team brings together an outstanding group of researchers, inside and outside UCI, with a range of expertise.”

Principal investigator Athina Markopoulou: “It is an honor and responsibility to lead one of NSF’s signature projects to address the timely and important problem of personal data protection on the internet.” Debbie Morales / UCI

Core UCI members include Markopoulou, who will apply her expertise in computer and mobile applications; Gene Tsudik, Distinguished Professor of computer science, who has deep experience in cybersecurity; and Scott Jordan, professor of computer science, whose policy background includes work with the Federal Communications Commission and other government entities.

The world has been dramatically transformed in recent decades by the growing ease in collecting and sharing data over the internet. Many useful services have arisen during this era but often at the expense of privacy, security, transparency and fairness to both individuals and society as a whole. Also, data can be intercepted by malicious actors and used for theft, surveillance, espionage and other illicit activities.

“The timing of this effort could hardly be more appropriate, as the current double-whammy of COVID-19 pandemic and growing social unrest exacerbate and highlight the importance of personal privacy,” Tsudik said. “One of the key pillars of this project is a successful mix of intra-and extra-mural collaborations coupled with strong institutional support.”

The UCI team will work to improve the transparency and control of personal data flow on the internet by combining methodologies from computer science and engineering – including theory, network measurement and systems security – with public policy and concepts from economics. They will also develop better systems for network monitoring and mediation.

Another major research angle in UCI’s program will be understanding and improving diversity and inclusiveness in cyberspace interactions.

“A differentiating factor in our proposal was that it tapped onto existing outreach initiatives through the Office of Access & Inclusion, which is managed jointly by the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Science, and headed by Sharnnia Artis,” said Markopoulou.

“Cybersecurity is one of the most significant economic and national security challenges facing our nation today,” said Nina Amla, lead NSF program director of the SaTC program. “NSF’s investments in foundational research will transform our capacity to secure personal privacy, financial assets and national interests. These new Frontiers awards will enable innovative approaches to cybersecurity and privacy, with potential benefits to all sectors of our economy.”

Markopoulou added: “Getting the award is only the beginning; I am looking forward to the actual work ahead.”

More information can be found at https://satcfrontier.eng.uci.edu/.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 222 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

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