Concordia receives $1.8M to improve cybersecurity with the arrival of 5G technology

The university partners with Ericsson and NSERC to create the first Industrial Research Chair in Software-Defined Networking and Network Functions Virtualization Security
October 25, 2019
New industry research chair Lingyu Wang: “It’s crucial to assure the security and stability of physical and virtual infrastructures.”

Ambulance drones hover over accident sites. Smart medicine cabinets track supplies. Deep sea wind farms repair themselves, remotely.

Welcome to fifth-generation (5G) telecommunications networks and the Internet of Things (IoT).

By 2024, there will be 4.1 billion cellular IoT connections, according to the Ericsson Mobility Report of June 2019. The 5G networks would be a cornerstone to leverage these devices in different industries from smart cities to smart cars.

Yet, as the IoT grows with the arrival of 5G networks — as with any emerging technology and new development — there is a need to put even stronger emphasis on security. Cloud-based networking may be subjected to unauthorized access, data leaks, side-channel attacks, and more.

In foresight, Concordia has partnered with Ericsson and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to create a new Industry Research Chair in Software-Defined Networking and Network Functions Virtualization (SDN/NFV) Security.

Valued at $1.8 million over five years, the new chair in the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science brings together industry and academia: graduate students, professors, industrial researchers and subject matter experts to proactively strengthen cybersecurity for the networks of the future.

Their aim is to develop novel processes, techniques and technologies for compliance-driven monitoring, attack prevention, detection and mitigation solutions.

"Concordia is taking the lead in cybersecurity research, and that includes providing the Canadian telecommunications industry with innovative solutions to counteract costly cyberattacks,” says Christophe Guy, vice-president of research and graduate studies at Concordia.

“This partnership with Ericsson and NSERC will generate transferable knowledge and technologies to strengthen the national critical infrastructure that society depends on today.”

“Cybersecurity is one of our key research strengths and I’m pleased to see how with this new industrial research chair we’re leading the way forward in Canada”, says Amir Asif, dean of the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science. “I’m glad to see how we can bring our relationship with Ericsson to the next level and I’m excited for all the opportunities this will create for our researchers and students.”

From left: Makan Pourzandi, Paul Baptista, Lingyu Wang, Mengyuan Zhang, Yosr Jarraya and Mourad Debbabi. From left: Makan Pourzandi, Paul Baptista, Lingyu Wang, Mengyuan Zhang, Yosr Jarraya and Mourad Debbabi.

Meet the team

The chairholder is Lingyu Wang, professor at the Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering (CIISE).

He notes that 5G comes amid increasing tension between privacy awareness, regulation and security threats (e.g. supply chain attacks).

“As the IoT grows in tandem with emerging 5G technology, it’s crucial to assure the security and stability — peace of mind — of both physical and virtual infrastructures across our increasingly networked world,” says Wang.

“To that end, I’m honoured to partner with Ericsson for our research on SDN/NFV security. We aim to strengthen Canada’s leadership in innovation and creating high-skilled workers in such a strategically important area.”

Mourad Debbabi is collaborating with Wang on this initiative. He’s the holder of the NSERC/Hydro-Québec/Thales Senior Industrial Research Chair in Smart Grid Security.

“The numbers reflect Concordia’s strategic commitment to cybersecurity,” says Debbabi, associate dean of research and graduate studies at the Gina Cody School.

“The Concordia Computer Security Laboratory now has a total of 65 cybersecurity researchers, including 10 professors and 55 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows making strides in prevention, detection, mitigation and recovery methods.”

He adds that the new NSERC chair program will enable Concordia to make impactful and lasting contributions to the field of SDN/NFV security.

Wang and Debbabi work closely with cryptography expert Amr Youssef, professor and graduate program director at the CIISE, and Chadi Assi, a network optimization expert and professor at the institute. External professors also include Suryadipta Majumdar from the State University of New York at Albany and Yuan Hong from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

“Together, the team is looking to create new models for improving our understanding of the threat landscape and defending the SDN/NFV-based virtual infrastructures,” says Wang.

“We’re facing interesting challenges about scalability — secure verification in cloud-sized environments — and realtimeness, privacy, automation and trust of third-party components.”

The team with the graduate students who will be involved in the project. The team with the graduate students who will be involved in the project.

Strategic training

Meanwhile, the initiative is an occasion to produce highly qualified personnel for prospective employees while increasing Concordia’s research capacity and scope. Wang notes that it not only strengthens Concordia’s reputation and visibility, but it attracts new students.

“The industrial research chair will be supported by two security graduate programs and a security research centre with 10 faculty members,” he says. “This is a unique training opportunity on the topic of cloud and network virtualization security — on both practical and theoretical foundations — as well as onsite training and internships at Ericsson.”

Enter Ericsson

Since 2007, Concordia and Ericsson have been collaborating on several research projects around software security and cloud computing security. The industrial research chair extends that collaboration by bringing real-world use cases from industry to academic research to be addressed with innovative cutting-edge solutions.

Yosr Jarraya and Makan Pourzandi are driving the collaboration for Ericsson Research Security in Montréal.

“We worked for several years with Wang and Debbabi, and we believe they have a unique expertise in cybersecurity and the know-how in successfully leading our research objectives,” explains Yosr Jarraya (PhD 10) who wrote her thesis under Debbabi’s supervision. “All together, we will make this collaboration a success story.”

Pourzandi, who has been an affiliate associate professor at the CIISE since 2009, notes that 5G brings in some challenges but also many new opportunities in cybersecurity.

“The promise of cutting-edge compliance and monitoring techniques would improve the security of 5G,” he explains. “In this collaboration, we intend to benefit from the flexibility, elasticity, and dynamism brought in by 5G to build better security.”

Eva Fogelström, director of security at Ericsson Research, highly values the continued collaboration with Concordia.

“With the increased focus on cybersecurity in general, and on security assurance in particular, it’s vital that we pursue research in new advanced methods and solutions for compliance and monitoring,” says Fogelström.

“We are truly motivated to continue and strengthen our collaboration with the leading researchers at Concordia to generate state-of-the-art results that will help build the trustworthiness of future mobile networks.”

For Wang and the entire team, 5G is coming — fast — and experts need to get ahead of it. “Our work with the new chair will help the economy by easing concerns in adopting virtual infrastructure.”

Learn more about the
Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering (CIISE) in the Gina Cody School of Engineering and Computer Science.


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