“The United States has built the most powerful military the world has ever seen, but we are not invincible. Information technology is a both an essential enabler of American power, but it is also our Achilles heel. And that’s why this project is so important,” said Virginia Congressman Jim Moran, referring to a new cybersecurity research center opened by L-3 and Virginia Tech in Arlington, Va., Oct. 5.

“Cyberspace is the soft underbelly of American power,” said Moran, who called the need for more effective solutions for cyberspace an “urgent national priority.”

The new facility, located at the Virginia Tech Research Center, near other government security and research centers a short drive from the Pentagon, represents an expanded partnership between Virginia Tech and L-3 Communications’ National Security Solutions Group.

The level of Internet and network access available at the facility, and through Virginia Tech, makes it one of the most connected research facilities in the world, with access to the National Lambda Rail, Internet2 and multiple federal networks, according to Virginia Tech and L-3 officials.

The new center will focus exclusively on advanced cybersecurity-related research and development, teaming L-3’s cyber professionals with Virginia Tech’s academic and research staff. Specifically, the center is expected to focus on four primary areas:

  • Securing communications across inherently insecure media, such as wireless networks and the Internet
  • Securing computation in inherently insecure environments, such as virtualization and cloud computing
  • The detection, attribution and mitigation of cyber threats
  • Developing innovative mobile device security solutions

“Co-location of the L-3 and Virginia Tech research centers will enable both organizations to leverage the wealth of academic expertise and business resources brought together by our partnership,” said Les Rose, president of L-3’s National Security Solutions Group.

“This is a long-term relationship designed to speed the delivery of innovation to our customers,” he said.

Such long term arrangements will be increasingly important to keeping up with the threats in cyberspace, said Moran, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, who also serves on the Defense and Military Construction subcommittee.

“Short-term, project-specific partnerships will not be enough anymore,” Moran said.

He illustrated the growing sophistication of hackers penetrating military operations, noting, “Recently, it was proven that a malicious actor could even hijack a remotely piloted aircraft by spoofing – or mimicking – its GPS signal,” he said.

Moran was one of a number of dignitaries who took part in the opening ceremonies, (including pictured left to right below: Virginia Secretary of Technology Jim Duffey, Congressman Moran, Virginia Tech President Dr. Charles Steger, L-3 Executive Vice President Curtis Brunson, Virginia Congressman Gerry Connolly), and a number of state legislators.

The L-3 National Security Solutions Center will employ approximately 70 cybersecurity professionals, has three labs. Under the partnership, L-3 will receive exclusive licensing rights to the products and services developed jointly by L-3 and Virginia Tech.

One of the projects demonstrated by researchers was experimentation with large display screens to analyze data visually. According to Associate Professor, Chris North, their research found that analysts looking at, and clustering related artifacts, using 6-by-13 foot, 100 million pixel screens were 22 times more productive than those toggling through images on standard desktop displays.

L-3 formed the cooperative partnership last year with Virginia Tech’s Ted and Karyn Hume Center for National Security and Technology.

Among other projects that were demonstrated at the new center included:

SecUChat: a FIPS 140-2 validated chat application for Android mobile devices that eliminates the risk of over-the-air (OTA) intercepts and allows secure chatting on any XMPP platform from anywhere. Additionally, it enables secure messaging on public networks and uses a crypto library housed within a self-contained microSD chip for optimal security.

Virtual Internet Business Environment (ViBE): uses virtualization technologies to create a protected, self-healing web browsing environment to protect computers and enterprise network resources.

National Security Solutions Security Operating Center (SOC): a live network capable of capturing web-based compromises on an isolated, forensics network. The system can show malicious traffic characteristics captured during the exploit and how they are integrated into network flow monitoring technologies.

Cyber/Kinetic Common Operational Picture: a real-time situational awareness capability that gives military commanders an intuitive mission-related view of cyber and kinetic battlefields in a 3-D geo-referenced environment.

High-Speed Framework: an FPGA-based 100 Gbps encryption solution created for technology risk reduction and to support high-performance secure networking requirements for DoD and intelligence communities.

VideoScout: has the ability to capture full-motion video for real-time and post-mission analysis. Information can be stored and shared for mission-critical intelligence.

“Our partnership will enable our faculty and graduate research students to apply their knowledge and expertise in practical applications that strengthen the security of our government and nation,” according to Dr. Charles Clancy, director of the Hume Center.

The Hume Center is considered a unique organization at Virginia Tech, focused on developing future leaders for the federal government. It is part of the College of Engineering and is supported by the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and specializes on work in the intelligence and defense sectors.