Cybersecurity Institute Works to Untangle Web of Concerns with Interdisciplinary Approach

Dr. Murat Kantarcioglu

Dr. Murat Kantarcioglu

The Internet of Things — a time in the near future when trillions of electronic devices will be connected to the Internet — will increase the need for interdisciplinary approaches to cybersecurity, experts say.

“With electronic devices now and in the future collecting medical, fitness, social, financial and other types of information, the potential amount of data security problems will increase across a variety of fields,” said Dr. Murat Kantarcioglu, associate professor of computer science in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.

“The Cyber Security Research and Education Institute was one of the earliest groups to bring an interdisciplinary approach to data security, so we are well-positioned to remain leaders in the field.”

For nearly a decade, Kantarcioglu, director of research at the institute, has conducted interdisciplinary work about risk management in data security and privacy with Dr. Alain Bensoussan, professor of risk and decision analysis in the Naveen Jindal School of Management and an Ashbel Smith Professor.

Alain Bensoussan

Dr. Alain Bensoussan

“The attackers are humans or institutions, and this simple fact immediately leads to the relevance of additional expertise, arising in particular from social science, economics and systems theory,” said Bensoussan, an affiliated member of the institute.

“But these people are not just deranged individuals. They are also well-organized gangsters who mean business. So economics comes in naturally as an important relevant discipline. Cybersecurity is a market, which must be studied as such. Defenders and attackers will take into consideration their risks, their costs and their profits.”

Bensoussan helps Kantarcioglu and other institute members build economic models to determine when data sharing is most beneficial.

“Privacy and security issues are often given as reasons for groups not to share data, but our research has shown that the most important issue in data sharing is what groups have as incentives to share data,” Kantarcioglu said.

Members of the institute also want to investigate the social science aspects of cybersecurity. They said part of the challenge is learning the language of the experts in social science, such as psychologists.

The Cyber Security Research and Education Institute was one of the earliest groups to bring an interdisciplinary approach to data security, so we are well-positioned to remain leaders in the field.

Dr. Murat Kantarcioglu,
director of research at the institute and associate professor of computer science in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science

“Interdisciplinary work is hard because of the language barrier,” Bensoussan said. “It requires a strong will and an open mind. It is not just splitting the work. It must be integrated. Therefore everyone has to understand what partners are doing. It is thus challenging, but absolutely indispensable for a successful outcome. So far, this activity has been very rewarding, and UTD has become a kind of model for others.”

Kantarcioglu said Bensoussan has been an ideal collaborator in bringing business issues to cybersecurity.

“Alain is highly renowned in the field of risk management, and he understands the technical side of security,” Kantarcioglu said.

Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, executive director of the institute and a Louis Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Professor, praised Kantarcioglu on his innovative partnerships and research. That work has led to numerous awards and publications in top-tier data conferences, including the Association of Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Management of Data and Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining; Proceedings of the Very Large Database Endowment and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers International Conference on Data Mining  and International Council for Open and Distance Education.

“Murat has had a stellar career at UTD, starting with a National Science Foundation CAREER award, followed by numerous grants from the NSF as well as agencies such as the National Institute of Health, Army Research Office and Office of Naval Research on risk-based cybersecurity,” said Thuraisingham, also a professor of computer science. “His research has brought UTD CSI tremendous visibility.” 

Institute’s Research Leader Wins National Award for Paper

Dr. Murat Kantarcioglu is part of a team that won a national award for interdisciplinary work conducted with medical researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. 

They won the Homer R. Warner Award for their work that tested software tools the team developed to help merge patient records from different hospitals.

“There is concern about the possibility of someone hacking one database and then using that as an entry to gain access to patient information from another hospital database,” Kantarcioglu said. “Our tool uses cryptography techniques to securely integrate and access patient records.”

The award is given to a paper chosen from the American Medical Informatics Association annual symposium that best describes approaches to improving computerized information acquisition and management, and experimental results documenting the value of these approaches.

The paper is one of several collaborations Kantarcioglu has with researchers at Vanderbilt.

“The Affordable Care Act and the push for cutting costs will require more and more data sharing among hospitals, providers and participants,” he said. “Due to privacy concerns, this tool and others in development will be especially needed.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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