Editor's Picks

Technology

IU professors receive $1.8 million NSF grant to protect security of 'internet of things' technology

Nov. 2, 2016

Is your webcam attacking the internet? IU School of Informatics and Computing researchers have received $1.8 million from the National Science Foundation to ensure that door locks, lightbulbs, cameras and other common household items, which are increasingly connected to the internet, remain secure.

Professors L. Jean Camp, Steve Myers and Ryan Henry

IU School of Informatics and Computing professors L. Jean Camp, Steve Myers and Ryan Henry | PHOTOS BY INDIANA UNIVERSITY

IU School of Informatics and Computing professors L. Jean CampSteve Myers and Ryan Henry will use the support from NSF to advance cybersecurity of the "internet of things," a term that describes integration of online connectivity into a growing list of everyday items that also includes refrigerators, washers and dryers, waste and water monitoring systems, and home security systems.

The support is part of an award totaling $3 million to IU and the University of Washington. Camp, Myers and Henry are the primary investigators on the study. Collaborators are Tadayoshi Kohno and Shwetak Patel of the University of Washington.

"The privacy issues in an 'internet of things' environment are numerous," Camp said. "It creates a world where many people may interact with the same technology, and technology may interact with many other technologies. Even in traditional digital environments, like the web, privacy can be extremely challenging; users often aren’t even aware it’s been compromised."

Among the topics under investigation, Camp and colleagues will explore ways to ensure that the growing sector of connected home technology does not compromise the privacy of unintended users of these devices, such as children, home visitors and homebuyers.

For example, Henry points out that a child's friend may pay a visit to a connected home and unintentionally interact with internet-of-things technology, such as getting their image captured on a video camera, or bring new technology into the home that affects the home’s integrated technology. Or unwanted interactions may occur between members of the same family, such as a teenager who purchases entertainment from a smart television using a parent's account.

"A house with numerous built-in technologies may have many people living in it, like parents, children and grandparents, or visitors who temporarily introduce another device into the technological ecosystem," Myers added. "Or, when a family sells a house, they may leave behind their internet-connected devices for the next occupants.

"We're seeking to provide a privacy structure in this environment that will allow people -- users and bystanders -- to interact with internet-of-things devices, and to enjoy their benefits, but also not suffer unknown information compromises."

The researchers on the project represent a wide range of expertise, including risk perception, risk communication, usable security and human-centered computing.

Some of these user tests will be conducted at a Bloomington, Indiana, house owned by the IU School of Informatics and Computing that has been renovated to provide a real-life environment for interaction with "smart home" technologies.

"This work isn't about individual users, it's about considering everyone who might be touched by this coming technology," Camp said. "We're not interested in studying privacy and security as an idealistic goal, but rather in addressing the privacy needs of real people in the real world."

The work of the IU School of Informatics and Computing aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including catalyzing research.

Back to the Inside IU Bloomington homepage

Read more Technology stories »