Schools, industry plan security consortium for cybersecurity

November 6, 2014

Donna Goodison

University, private industry and governmental support is being corralled for a New England research consortium to tackle cybersecurity issues confronting the financial services industry, become a regional force in vying for large federal grants and create a cyber­security talent pipeline.

Organizers of the New England Cyber Security Research Consortium have a $2 million commitment from an undisclosed industry source toward the estimated $8 million to $10 million needed for the first four years of operation, according to William Guenther, founder and CEO of Boston consulting and research firm Mass Insight Global Partnerships.

Mass Insight and the 3-year-old nonprofit Advanced Cyber Security Center plan a formal launch of the consortium next year. They so far have letters of support from the Univer­sity of Massachusetts, Northeastern University, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, State Street Corp., the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, .406 Ventures and the city of Boston.

The consortium would have university faculty and students working alongside industry researchers on projects such as developing automated, real-time, threat-sharing networks to aid in cyberattack defense and building the security of mobile payments. It would serve as an incubator for emerging businesses.

“This is outsourcing from industries to univer­sities,” Guenther said.

The effort will enable New England universities to access large-scale government funding, said Jack Wilson, UMass president emeritus and professor of higher education, emerging technologies and innovation. State and federal governments give preference to regions with strong industry/university partnerships when awarding grants in the $30 million to $70 million range, according to Guenther.

The consortium would take a multidisciplinary approach to cybersecurity, tapping sources in information technology, social and behavioral sciences, economics, law and policy. Developing a “new breed” of talent with well-rounded skills is important, as is collaboration with industry partners sharing the same problems, said John McKenna, Liberty Mutual Group’s chief information security officer. “We can’t solve these things alone,” he said.

A search is underway for a downtown Boston location for the consortium, but much of the work will be done virtually, via connections to partner universities.

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