Different University of Washington schools and offices will team to research how to keep the Internet of Things safe and secure.

Devices connected to the Internet of Things, now becoming standard components in new buildings, can increase energy performance while reducing costs. But such highly connected sensors can also bring potential security vulnerabilities.

Departments and that will collaborate are the UW College of Built Environments, College of Arts & Sciences and Jackson School of International Studies as well as UW Facilities and UW Information Technology.

Though technical solutions to such security concerns exist, implementing them can be impeded by differences in communication and work cultures between workers in information technology, and operations and maintenance. These challenges, together with a policy environment that rarely regulates Internet of Things devices, can increase risks and leave buildings vulnerable to attack.

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) in August awarded a grant of $721,104 over three years to the Communication, Technology and Organizational Practices lab in the College of Built Environment’s Construction Management Department to study how organizational policies and procedures can help — or hinder — the needed collaboration between information technology and operations and maintenance professionals. The lab is housed in the department’s Center for Education and Research in Construction.

The three-year project will use investigators’ expertise in communication, collaboration, cybersecurity policy and internet of things practices to study two critical areas:
1. How operations and maintenance and information technology groups currently share their knowledge and skills to improve security for the Internet of Things
2. How public policies and an organization’s own rules on privacy and security impact how information technology and operations and maintenance teams collaborate

Several UW faculty, staff and administrators are involved in the research. Co-principal investigators are Laura Osburn, a research scientist in the Center for Education and Research in Construction; and Carrie Dossick, professor of construction management.

Jessica Beyer, lecturer, research scientist and co-director of the Jackson School’s Cybersecurity Initiative also is an investigator, as is Chuck Benson, director of the UW’s new risk mitigation strategy program for the internet of things.

The team will work on the two critical issues through ethnographic research of university cybersecurity efforts, interviews with information technology and operations and maintenance professionals and case studies of cybersecurity efforts in the built environments of higher education.

Also included in the research will include a graduate research assistant and undergraduate students from the Jackson School’s Cybersecurity Initiative.

The aim is to better understand how elements of organization, practice and policy interact and affect collaboration in keeping the Internet of Things safe and secure — and to provide examples of how such elements might help or hinder the necessary collaboration to implement smart building technologies.

“What’s most important about this project is finding ways to help technology experts from different departments and different disciplines work and communicate better together so that they can keep our buildings safe and make sure that the data that Internet of Things devices are collecting stay secure,” Osburn said.

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