EECS Faculty Study Cloud Security

LAWRENCE — University of Kansas researchers have received a multimillion-dollar Department of Defense grant designed to build user trust and confidence in the security of cloud computing and to develop techniques that ensure projects run as predicted, without interference.

Perry Alexander, distinguished professor of electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), is the principal investigator on a four-year, $2.7 million grant. EECS Associate Professors Prasad Kulkarni and Andy Gill serve as co-investigators on developing the program, known as ArmoredSoftware.

According to Forbes Magazine, businesses spend an estimated $13 billion on cloud computing and managed hosting services. More than half of U.S. businesses are phasing out expensive IT equipment for pay-as-you-go service. It reduces costs and offers greater flexibility in response to changing needs. As more government agencies and businesses rent computing power, software and storage over the Internet, they need tools to verify trustworthiness and integrity.

ArmoredSoftware evaluates programs for abnormal behavior, like those exhibited by viruses and spyware, and takes actions to protect itself and data. Whether that action is reporting the compromised program, migrating to a new infrastructure, or simply ignoring the work order will depend on the threat level, Alexander said.

Alexander likens the security concerns to feeling unsafe while walking in a city. There are many options: hail a cab, move to the other side of the street, call for help or run to safety. It is about finding the best solution for each particular situation.

“We can’t perform a physical check on servers thousands of miles away. We need to do that across the network by building a trustworthiness assessment into the hardware and software infrastructure,” said Alexander, who leads KU’s Information and Telecommunication Technology Center (ITTC).

Through ArmoredSoftware, KU researchers are developing techniques for appraising operating environments and running software. The goal is to create an environment that permits a trusted exchange of information on any server in the cloud.

Computing power combined with convenient access has led to email, bank accounts and other private data stored in the cloud. It also offers smaller companies and research organizations access to high-performance computing resources, spurring economic development, Alexander said. While the cloud makes it easier for users to view information from any device, the central data storage makes the cloud an appealing target.

“There is nothing magic about what we call the cloud – we are sharing resources to reduce cost. However, when we put computations and data in the cloud, we trust it to protect our interests,” Alexander said. “ArmoredSoftware allows our cloud processes to protect themselves by autonomously assessing their environment. KU and ITTC are privileged to continue working with DoD on this important research.”