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NJIT Signs Prime Contract for DARPA SafeWare Activity

The growing portfolio of cybersecurity activity in the College of Computing Sciences marks an increase in funded research.

NJIT recently signed a contract to lead the PALISADE project as part of the SafeWare program to develop encrypted computing technologies and address software security limitations.

The project is supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Army Research Office. DARPA is a Department of Defense research-funding agency that supports the development of groundbreaking technologies. Technologies developed with DARPA support include the Internet, GPS and stealth.

The goal of the SafeWare program is to develop technology that protects software from reverse engineering. For instance, if a company makes a cellphone, a rival company can take the phone apart, look at the software and extract proprietary algorithms used for signal processing. DARPA’s game-changing SafeWare program aims to develop new technology to protect proprietary software with quantifiable security that not only depends on a complex code structure, but also on the difficulty of the mathematical problems an attacker would have to solve to successfully breach the program.

The funded NJIT team, led by former industry scientist and current NJIT computer science professor Kurt Rohloff, includes two MIT professors, a Turing Award winner, a University of California, San Diego professor and Raytheon BBN Technologies, a venerable technology research and development firm.

“The primary cybersecurity goal of this project is to develop proof of concept capabilities,” says Rohloff, who is also the founding director of NJIT’s newly created cybersecurity research center. “If successful, SafeWare technologies will provide provably secure protection of sensitive intellectual property and algorithmic information in software that is vulnerable to capture and dissection.”

The PALISADE project is currently funded for $759,829 with a $3.5 million funding ceiling. The funding is supporting multiple Ph.D. students and postdoctoral research scientists to support NJIT’s ongoing cybersecurity initiatives.

PALISADE comes on the heels of Rohloff’s recent work on other DARPA projects and NJIT’s recent designation by the National Security Agency and Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. This growing portfolio of cybersecurity activity in the NJIT College of Computing Sciences broadens the university’s research in the area and marks an increase in funded research.

By partnering with world-renowned experts in the field of cybersecurity and taking a new theoretical approach to program obfuscation, the NJIT team will “help to transition theoretically feasible technologies into things that might be useable, making it practical in working software,” says Rohloff. “This work is important because if there is a lack of investment in bridging the gap from theory to practice, there will be a lack of overall capabilities for society.”

Rohloff plans to release software under an open-source license so that other performers on the SafeWare program can help build more secure computing systems.

“Solving interesting cybersecurity problems is a big part of what I do and why I enjoy being here at NJIT,” adds Rohloff. “We’re building software that is intended to be used and reused. Unlike other academia projects, which are generally just one-off activities, we’re hoping to make this project something that we can build on for years to come.”

By Shydale James