National Science Foundation gives $10 million to cloud, mobile security team

Money supports THaW.org group led by researchers at top universities
By Bernie Monegain
09:50 AM
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National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation will provide a $10 million grant to researchers at several top universities to support their work on cloud and mobile network security in healthcare.

The five-year grant from NSF's Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace, will fund Trustworthy Health and Wellness, or THaW.org, a research group led by David Kotz, a professor of computer science at Dartmouth College.

[See also: 2015 healthcare security breaches: a long list.]

"Mobile medical applications offer tremendous opportunities to improve quality and access to care, reduce costs and improve individual wellness and public health," Kotz said in a statement. "However, these new technologies, whether in the form of software for smartphones or specialized devices to be worn, carried or applied as needed, may also pose risks if they are not designed or configured with security and privacy in mind."

As example, Katz pointed to scenarios in which a patient's insulin pump may accept dosage instructions from unauthorized smartphones that have been infected with malicious software, or a fertility-tracking app that could expose itself to nearby strangers by probing for a Bluetooth device to connect with.

The THaW team's research portfolio includes authentication and privacy tools to protect health records, methods to secure small-scale clinical networks and efforts to reduce malicious activity in hospitals. The team is also training the next generation of computer scientists by involving undergraduate and high school students in research and by developing an exchange program for its postdoctoral fellows and research students.

[See also: Healthcare breaches to get worse in 2016.]

"In complex environments having to do with health, wellness and medicine, there are a lot of moving parts involving devices, software, wireless and wired communications, and other dimensions, which are rich in challenges for security, privacy and safety," said NSF program officer Sol Greenspan, in the announcement.

THaW comprises experts in computer science, behavioral health, health policy and information technology from Dartmouth, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University.

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