KU Affairs

Innovative Masdar Institute and MIT Research Targets UAE Cyber Infrastructure Security Challenges

September 21, 2018

Abu Dhabi-UAE: 28 June, 2015 – The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, an independent, research-driven graduate-level university focused on advanced energy and sustainable technologies, has recently launched a collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to advance cybersecurity research in the UAE.

The ultimate objective of the study is to ensure better cybersecurity on critical infrastructure sites in the UAE and globally by using an innovative approach to assess potential vulnerabilities against cyber attacks on critical infrastructure. Using Abu Dhabi’s power system as a case study, the research will undertake a multilayered methodology, which will ensure the development of a knowledge map of the power system and its shortcomings.

MIT Cyber Security Consortium
Dr. Fred Moavenzadeh, President, Masdar Institute, said, “Through Masdar Institute’s ongoing research efforts, greater emphasis is being placed on the protection of critical infrastructure sites by enhancing cybersecurity. This project will help to develop the Institute into a knowledge center for cybersecurity in the UAE and promote Masdar Institute and its Institute Center for Smart and Sustainable Systems (iSmart) as a leader in cybersecurity research. The collaboration with MIT will also help to identify competency gaps, generate critical mass between the faculty and develop human capital in the niche area of cybersecurity.”

The collaboration will see Masdar Institute and MIT undertake research involving Abu Dhabi’s power system and will focus on using a novel and comprehensive approach to identify and assess the different sources of cyber gaps in a critical infrastructure system. The research will also investigate the significance of each of these challenges to the integrity of the physical system. This collaboration is a project of the MIT Technology and Development Program.

The principal investigators of the project are Dr. Sameh El Khatib, Assistant Professor in the Masdar Institute Department of Engineering Systems and Management and member of iSmart, and Dr. Nazli Choucri, Professor of Political Science at the MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, and Principal Investigator and Director of the MIT/Harvard initiative in Explorations in Cyber International Relations (ECIR).

A number of research projects have already been undertaken to better secure conventional information systems, but no research had been conducted regarding the protection of critical infrastructure. Dr. Choucri and Dr. El Khatib’s work will rectify this by addressing the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure. The research will also serve as a guide for policymakers in an age where cybersecurity has become one of the biggest issues for businesses and government.

“Our research aims to contribute to the development of cybersecurity as an emerging field of scientific inquiry. To date, there have been few robust scientific investigations that provide comprehensive evidence on the sources and consequences of cyber security. The overarching goal of the project is to analyze and define the science behind cyber security in an effort to provide substantial and concrete scientific data related to the weaknesses of critical infrastructure and how to better protect them,” said Dr. El Khatib.

The project is due to run for two years. At the end of this two year period, it is hoped that data from the comprehensive analysis of Abu Dhabi’s power system could be compared against data from the projects running concurrently in New York and Singapore to develop a comprehensive knowledge map, capable of being applied to critical infrastructure worldwide. It will also aid with the development of human capital in this area, beginning with the five Masdar Institute students – three of which are UAE nationals – that are working with Dr. El Khatib in this cybersecurity project.  

Speaking about her involvement in the project, UAE national student Reem Al Hammadi said, “By undertaking this research in collaboration with MIT, I have had the opportunity to develop knowledge and highly technical skills related to the niche area of cybersecurity and critical infrastructure. The continued development of local talent by Masdar Institute in this area will ensure that the UAE is fully equipped to advance research related to cybersecurity and critical infrastructure.”

The research collaboration is part of the Masdar Institute and MIT Joint Cooperative Program and in collaboration with the MIT Interdisciplinary Consortium for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity (IC)3, which is one of three recently launched initiatives by MIT dedicated to lead global research in cybersecurity. The (IC)3 initiative, which is directed by Dr. Stuart Madnick, Professor of Information Technologies, MIT Sloan School of Management & Professor of Engineering Systems, MIT School of Engineering, has been formed to address the need  to improve the cybersecurity of critical infrastructure, with a focus on strategic, operational and managerial issues related to cybersecurity.