SMU launches new cyber autonomy range

Supported by IBM software, range to help 'smart' devices against attack

Dallas (SMU) Driverless vehicles, smart thermostats, even the facial recognition programs on cell phones make decisions without human involvement. But because these autonomous systems all depend on machine learning and/or artificial intelligence, they are vulnerable to cyberattacks that can corrupt their programs with potentially disastrous results.

The Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security at SMU (Southern Methodist University) is launching a new Cyber Autonomy Range, supported by IBM Security Software through IBM SkillsBuild, designed to toughen autonomous systems against cyberattacks. The range will be a controlled and isolated technology environment that can simulate possible attacks on autonomous systems that take actions automatically based on received data. IBM is providing an in-kind contribution of software and support for the project valued at over $850,000.

The range will be “scrubbable,” meaning all equipment can be securely wiped of all data to remove malicious elements and protect customer data. The range also will be reconfigurable, allowing for environmental changes for each testing event.

“IBM is thrilled to be supporting SMU’s cybersecurity initiative aimed at helping harden autonomous systems against cyberattacks,” said Bob Kalka, Global Lead at IBM Security. “At a time when innovations in AI and automation are accelerating, it’s crucial that these technologies are tested and trained to be trusted. SMU’s program is doing just that.”

“We are entering the autonomous age,” said Mitch Thornton, executive director of the SMU Lyle School of Engineering’s Deason Institute. “It is changing our world in the same way that cell phones did. So, keeping the decision-supporting data that these systems depend on free of outside manipulation is very important.”

The Cyber Autonomy Range facility will be configured for briefings, classroom training, secure testing, lab space and will be supported by SMU’s Data Center, which includes SMU’s high performance computing cluster and access to SMU’s NVIDIA DGX SuperPOD, specifically tailored for artificial intelligence research.

Thornton expects phase one of the new range to be operational by this summer.  


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