UToledo Awarded $1.8 Million to Develop Workforce in Specialized Area of Cybersecurity

December 10, 2020 | News, Research, UToday, Engineering
By Christine Billau

The University of Toledo is collaborating with Wright State University and four other Ohio universities on a three-year, $30 million project aimed at attracting engineering students to the field of assured digital microelectronics, a specialized area of cybersecurity.

Supported by the U.S. Air Force, the collaborative project aims to develop a pipeline of trained undergraduate engineering students with the skills to design and develop assured and trusted digital microelectronic devices and systems. The project is led by Wright State University in partnership with UToledo, the University of Akron, Youngstown State, Ohio University and Lorain County Community College.

UToledo was awarded $1.8 million for its part of the project led by Dr. Mohammed Niamat, professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in the College of Engineering.

UToledo professor Dr. Mohammed Niamat is working to devise techniques to prevent cyber-attacks based on machine learning and blockchain technology on digital microelectronic chips.

Niamat is the founder of the Hardware Security Lab and is working to devise techniques to prevent cyber-attacks based on machine learning and blockchain technology on digital microelectronic chips. Dr. Ahmad Javaid, assistant professor in the UToledo Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, will serve as a co-investigator on the U.S. Air Force project.

“This defense contract is the biggest award ever to our Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,” Niamat said. “We are honored to help develop a cybersecurity workforce in the field of assured digital microelectronics and are eager to enhance partnerships with local industries and high schools to encourage careers in computing hardware security and trust.”

The Air Force is working to ensure that microelectronics systems from commercial foundries are trusted, assured and protected. The effort applies to currently fielded microelectronics no longer in production, microelectronics in production and next-generation cutting-edge microelectronics in development.

“There has been an explosion in the number of counterfeit chips that has infiltrated the global semiconductor supply chain,” Niamat said. “This infiltration is mostly done by dishonest third-party subcontractors for economic reasons, and frequently result in malfunctioning of the chip at the most crucial time. Even more worrisome is the implantation of a spurious circuitry known as Trojan on the chip that can leak vital information to an adversary and hamper the functionality of the chip in mission-critical applications.”

“These computer chips provide the processing power for everything we’re doing in technology right now,” said Vance Saunders, director of the cybersecurity program at Wright State University and leader of the $30 million project. “Most of them are manufactured outside the United States, and we don’t have the infrastructure to manufacture them all ourselves. We need to be able to assess the trustworthiness of this hardware.”

The goal of the project titled “Assured Digital Microelectronics Education and Training Ecosystem” is to develop a seamless environment of career-long education and training and a timely completion of educational credentials, overcoming any institutional barriers, curricular differences and policy hurdles.

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