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Borisov receives grant for building control systems research


Lauren Eichmann, ECE Illinois

Information Trust Institute
Information Trust Institute

The Cyber Trust Program of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has granted funding to nine Illinois researchers with the Information Trust Institute (ITI) who are studying methods to improve the reliability and security of information systems.

Among the five awards, one goes to ECE Assistant Professor Nikita Borisov who is investigating improvements to the security network of building control systems with Computer Science Professor Carl Gunter. The $500,000 award over two years will fund research dealing specifically with advancing the management of lighting, heating, and building access.

The Cyber Trust Program, with very low acceptance rates, awards competitive grants for exploratory research projects, individual investigator or small group projects, as well as team initiatives. According to Borisov, the Cyber Trust funding rate for this year is 20 to 30 percent of all proposals.

Nikita Borisov
Nikita Borisov

"I’m happy to receive continued support from the NSF for my research," said Borisov, of his second Cyber Trust award. He received the first last year along with ECE and ITI professors David Nicol and William Sanders for work on intrusion detection and techniques for quickly recognizing cyber attacks. "Both my projects involve foundational research but have immediate practical applications as well, and it is nice to see the NSF Cyber Trust program targeting such research."

Borisov said after he and Gunter taught a course together, they soon developed a project that started looking at building security - of which they wrote the funded proposal. They have now been working collaboratively since Borisov came to Illinois in 2005.

Borisov and Gunter are currently working on a test bed that is modeled after the Siebel Center for Computer Science. "We’re trying to figure out how to connect a smart building - that has a lot of networked devices that are involved with turning on the lights, opening the doors, changing the temperature - to the Internet to enable new uses of it," said Borisov. "Currently the buildings and Internet are on separate networks to prevent attacks from the Internet from affecting the building. For example, someone could take over the building controls or find out when people are coming to their offices. What we are trying to develop is a set of principles and techniques for providing a security and privacy layering between the Internet and the building to enable new applications."

The two professors have plans to host a demonstration at Siebel Center where they will test some of their research. This would include trying to unlock a building door with a cell phone. The operational staff of the building is presently undertaking a project review, and the goal is to conduct the demonstration within a month, said Borisov. The project by Borisov and Gunter has also been co-funded by the Computer Science Department, which allowed for the set-up of the test bed as well as the ability to establish relationships with the operational staff at Siebel Center.

"One of our goals is to be able to leverage the existing infrastructure (of building control systems), but also provide sufficient protection to make sure that security and privacy are well respected," he said.

In terms of its application and usefulness, Borisov said you just have to reason logically. "Once you are able to connect the building to the Internet, many natural applications, such as allowing people to use their cell phone when they forgot and lost their keys, become possible," he said.