Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

UMass Lowell professor lands $4.5m for IoT research

Steve Rogerson
April 14, 2020



University of Massachusetts Lowell professor Xinwen Fu (pictured left) has been awarded more than $4.5m by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the US Department of Energy (DoE) for his research into the IoT.
 
“IoT is booming with the popularity of smart, mobile devices,” said Fu, a cyber-security and cyber-forensics expert who is the director of UMass Lowell’s Center for Internet Security & Forensics Education & Research (iSafer) and a faculty member of the UML Cyber Range. “However, these devices, if left unprotected, will allow hackers to be able to collect or manipulate data using a Bluetooth connection.”
 
Last autumn, the NSF awarded two grants, totalling $1.54m spread over three years to Fu and his collaborators from the University of Central Florida (UCF) to improve the security and privacy of IoT. The first grant, worth more than $1.2m, focuses on building a secure, trustworthy and reliable air quality monitoring system for smart, connected communities.
 
“We are building sensors so that the air quality data cannot be manipulated by anybody, even by those who can physically touch and access the sensors,” said Fu.
 
A total of 110 prototypes will be deployed across Boston and Orlando. The data collected will be transmitted to a central server for analysis.
 
“The techniques used for securing the sensors can also be applied to protect all kinds of IoT devices, including security cameras, hospital medical sensors and virtual home assistants, so that administrators and researchers can make correct decisions based on trustworthy data,” said Fu.
 
The second grant, worth more than $340,000, is education funding to build low-cost, state-of-the-art IoT security hands-on laboratory kits for use in university classrooms.
 
“We will teach students how to design and build secure IoT devices,” said Fu. “They will experiment with the devices and learn how to defend them from cyber attacks. Our project is the first to use an industrial-grade microcontroller with a crypto coprocessor to systematically develop teaching materials, including hands-on labs and case studies on IoT security and privacy. This IoT platform costs significantly less than existing platforms, and will allow for the development of a full-fledged IoT laboratory with hardware security modules that is affordable for students and institutions.”
 
In February, the DoE awarded $3m to Fu and his UCF co-researchers to secure IoT-based automation systems used in smart buildings. Today’s smart building technology uses wireless sensors, equipment controllers and cloud-based software to control heat, ventilation, air conditioning and lighting systems to save energy, increase comfort and improve air quality.
 
“Depending on its size and type, each building can have 50 to 100 controlled devices, while each device can have, on average, ten sensors – that is, each building can have 500 to 1000 IoT gateway points,” said Fu. “With such a large network, vulnerabilities exist that could allow malicious hackers to attack those sensors, connect their computer to the building’s system and attack all devices hooked into the entire building. My job is to examine network weaknesses and design defence measures against such cyber attacks.”
 
Fu is pictured with undergraduate student Chukpozohn Erastus Toe.