Northrop links to academics to boost cyber defense

WASHINGTON Tue Dec 1, 2009 1:52pm EST

People attend a workshop on the first day of the 18th World Wide Web Conference in Madrid in this April 20, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Susana Vera

People attend a workshop on the first day of the 18th World Wide Web Conference in Madrid in this April 20, 2009 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Susana Vera

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Northrop Grumman Corp unveiled Tuesday an industry-academic research group to tackle growing cyber threats to U.S. computer networks and to networked infrastructure.

Joining the Pentagon's No. 3 supplier by sales are cyber research arms of Carnegie Mellon, The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Purdue University.

The initiative is the latest by a major U.S. defense contractor aimed at hatching solutions to cyber threats at a time that big-ticket weapons programs are being squeezed by cost-cutting imperatives.

Northrop plans to invest an unspecified "number of millions of dollars per year" to fund graduate fellowships and other research for at least five years and probably much longer, said Robert Brammer, chief technology officer for Northrop Grumman's Information Systems business unit.

"We need significant new technology developments," implemented widely, to counter growing cyber threats to the economy and to U.S. national security, he told a news conference. The theme was echoed by representatives of Carnegie Mellon's CyLab, MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab and Purdue's Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security.

Northrop will deal on a case-by-case basis with each research institute on splitting jointly developed intellectual property, said Brammer.

The group, called the Northrop Grumman Cybersecurity Research Consortium, initially will sponsor 10 projects with an eye to such things as attribution in cyberspace, supply chain risk and securing critical infrastructure networks, the company said.

The group's members will coordinate research projects, swap information and author joint case studies, among other efforts to speed hardware and software solutions into practice, participants said.

The consortium will serve "to help increase our nation's security in cyberspace," Brammer added in a statement. He said in a brief interview he expects some research results as soon as next year.

Northrop's cyber work was in the news recently for a report prepared by the company that implicated the Chinese authorities in extensive cyber activities against the United States.

The report, commissioned by the congressionally chartered U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said Beijing appeared to be conducting "a long-term, sophisticated, computer network exploitation campaign" against the U.S. government and U.S. defense industries.

Brammer told the news conference that identifying a cyber aggressor was "very difficult" with current technology.

Lockheed Martin Corp, the Pentagon's No. 1 supplier by sales, last month announced the formation of a cyber security technology alliance of its own with leading technology providers, including Microsoft Corp, Cisco Systems Inc and Dell Inc.

Boeing Co, the second-biggest Pentagon contractor, also has put together a cyber-security research alliance, headquartered in Washington state, with university and commercial partners, said Barbara Fast, the company's vice president of cyber and information solutions.

(Reporting by Jim Wolf; editing by Gerald E. McCormick)

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