NSA funds 'science of cybersecurity' research

The National Security Agency is funding the creation of small laboratories -- "lablets" in NSA vernacular -- that will support research into the science of cybersecurity at four major universities.

For the past three years, NSA has been partnering with academia with the intent of creating a research community dedicated to the science of security and quantifying behaviors and characteristics of cyberattacks and threats.

According to the statement, lablet research will focus on five particularly difficult cybersecurity problem areas: scalability and composability, policy-governed secure collaboration, security metrics, resilient architectures, and understanding and accounting for human behavior.

NSA assigned three science-of-security grants to universities in 2012 to fund research through June 2014, NSA officials told FCW in an email message. The most recent funding is through contract awards to the University of Maryland, North Carolina State University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Illinois to conduct research for one year with optional additional years.

Each of the universities received $1 million to $2.5 million for the first year, for a total of approximately $8.2 million, according to NSA. After the first year, the government has the right to exercise two one-year option periods to continue research at a particular lablet.

According to NSA's email message, all science-of-security research is unclassified, and results for each of the lablets will be published via the Science of Security Virtual Organization.

In an April 22 statement, NSA officials said they had approached almost 300 university departments with an opportunity to fund development of the lablets in partnership with private industry.

NC State is a hotbed for cybersecurity research and education. It is also the site of NSA's Laboratory for Analytic Sciences, and it introduced the first master's of science in analytics for big-data analysis.

NC State was one of the three universities that received a $2.5 million lablet grant in 2012. That lablet, housed in the university's Institute for Next Generation IT Systems, drew on computing research and analytics to adapt ideas ranging from fault-tolerant computing to the context of security, said Laurie Williams, a computer science professor at NC State and a co-principal investigator at the university's lablet.

The new grant will support the same kind of research and facilities, she told FCW. The lablet will focus on the design of trusted systems and encompass contributions from the fields of computer science, mathematics, behavioral science, economics and physics, she added.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


  • 2018 Fed 100

    The 2018 Federal 100

    This year's Fed 100 winners show just how much committed and talented individuals can accomplish in federal IT. Read their profiles to learn more!

  • Census
    How tech can save money for 2020 census

    Trump campaign taps census question as a fund-raising tool

    A fundraising email for the Trump-Pence reelection campaign is trying to get supporters behind a controversial change to the census -- asking respondents whether or not they are U.S. citizens.

  • Cloud
    DOD cloud

    DOD's latest cloud moves leave plenty of questions

    Speculation is still swirling about the implications of the draft solicitation for JEDI -- and about why a separate agreement for cloud-migration services was scaled back so dramatically.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.