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CIRI receives two-year funding extension

9/1/2020 9:07:38 AM Allie Arp, CSL

The Critical Infrastructure Resilience Institute (CIRI) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has received a two-year funding extension from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Created in 2015 to improve the security and resilience of the nation’s critical infrastructures, CIRI, a DHS Center of Excellence, hopes to continue this work moving forward.

“The additional funding demonstrates the importance of critical resilience to DHS and the government and that we at CIRI are getting the job done,” said David Nicol, CIRI director and principal investigator. “I take is as an indicator that DHS is pleased with our performance and that’s quite gratifying.”

David Nicol
David Nicol

Randy Sandone, CIRI executive director said one of the largest accomplishments of CIRI in the last five years has been taking the broad and complex topic of critical infrastructure resilience and developing an overarching strategy for implementing positive change. In addition, the group has been able to identify the research areas where they could make the largest impact and strategically fund initiatives in those areas.

One of the areas in which CIRI regularly works is educational workforce development. In its first five years, CIRI has hosted five research teams and five interns from minority serving institutions as part of its programming, a fact of which Sandone is particularly proud. The summer research teams and interns work with CIRI at Illinois, when possible, to conduct research in areas relevant to cybersecurity. This gives the visiting researchers and students the opportunity to conduct research at a Tier 1 institution with more resources than they have at their home institution.

The third major accomplishment CIRI has had in the last five years could also be the key to its future. Currently, CIRI has developed a number of technology products that are being transitioned into the marketplace.

“Our strength in technology transition is something I’m pleased with and a great accomplishment in the last five years,” said Sandone. “Our goal is to demonstrate that we can take a project from research challenge to fielded solution quickly in order to deliver meaningful impact in service of our mission.  We think this will help us to achieve the status of being self-supporting through multiple customers, research grants and contracts.”

Randy Sandone
Randy Sandone

There are currently six tools in the technology transition phase. The Cyber Secure Dashboard provides a step-by-step process to implement cybersecurity controls in the context of the Federal standard NIST Cyber Security Framework and the Department of Defense Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) standard. The Cyber Risk Scoring Mitigation (CRISM) tool helps companies identify and mitigate cyber vulnerabilities. LEFT is a new methodology developed by CIRI to help make 4G LTE networks more secure and reliable. The Port Disruptions Tool allows owners and operators of maritime port operations to assess the operational and economic impacts of potential port disruptions and assess mitigation strategies. Last, but not least, the Business Resilience Calculator allows businesses of all sizes to identify the most cost-effective resilience tactics to employ to reduce business losses associated with disruptions.

In addition to these tools, CIRI has begun exploring new areas of infrastructure security. In particular, CIRI has several research projects underway to assess and mitigate cyber risks to the nation’s mobile telecommunications and emergency response networks from both a technological perspective and from a vendor/supplier perspective. This work will is particularly urgent given the pending roll-out of 5G technology and the expanding deployment of Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices.

Every DHS Center of Excellence has a goal to become self-sustaining, and Sandone believes it can be achieved by CIRI in the next two years by focusing on the same goals that got them to this point.

“The strategic goal for CIRI has remained the same -- to enhance the security and resilience of national critical infrastructure, that’s what we’re here to do,” said Sandone. “The strategies and tactics to achieve that outcome have and will evolve based on research findings and DHS needs, but the primary goal remains the same."