The Johns Hopkins University, supported by a $10 million "seed" gift, is establishing a research center to tackle the complex technological, legal, ethical and public policy challenges of keeping information private and computer systems secure in an increasingly electronic world.
The Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute will draw on experts from nearly every school and division in the university and will work in partnership with industry and government agencies.
"JHUISI will take a very broad, interdisciplinary approach to such problems as personal privacy and confidentiality of electronic data, and the security of computer systems," said William R. Brody, president of the university. "These are issues that have taken center stage in our society over the past decade and will only grow in importance as technology continues to advance."
The institute will focus on problems as diverse as the protection of intellectual property in electronic forms of entertainment, security of e-business transactions and patient privacy in telemedicine and medical databases. It will work with business and government partners on ways to thwart hackers and other computer criminals.
The institute also will prepare full-time undergraduates and graduate students, as well as part-time students, for jobs in the burgeoning information security field. To facilitate some of this training, the institute will set up labs in which university researchers and students will test software and hardware systems submitted by private companies and government offices for security vulnerabilities.
Johns Hopkins is well-positioned to launch an information security center, its administrators believe, because of the university's range of expertise and its location near the Washington, D.C., area, home of both the federal government and one of the nation's largest concentrations of information technology workers.
In fact, the university is already engaged in a significant amount of information security research and related work. The Applied Physics Laboratory has information security-related contracts worth millions of dollars a year. Basic and applied research is conducted by computer science faculty members at the Homewood campus in Baltimore. In Washington, D.C., faculty and students from the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies conducted two international conferences over the past year focusing on global cyberspace issues, including privacy and security.
"We plan to build upon many things we are already doing to become a world leader in the field of information security," said Ilene Busch-Vishniac, dean of the Whiting School of Engineering and a member of the institute's 11-member university-wide steering committee.
As computer research at Stanford University fueled the creation of Silicon Valley as an industry headquarters, so the basic and applied research at Hopkins will enhance the regional economy here, she said.
"We believe we can do the same thing for the region that includes Maryland, northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.," Busch-Vishniac said.
The institute will be administered through the Whiting School. But it will involve researchers and faculty from APL, SAIS and other Johns Hopkins divisions and centers, including the School of Professional Studies in Business and Education, the Institute for Policy Studies, the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Milton S. Eisenhower Library, the Peabody Institute, the East Baltimore-based schools of Medicine, Public Health and Nursing, and Hopkins Information Technology Services.
The large and diverse pool of experts within these Hopkins organizations will allow the institute to begin operating with up to 50 affiliated researchers and faculty, organizers said. Another 30 may be hired within three years.
Plans for the institute, which have been under discussion for many months, received a jumpstart recently when a donor, who has chosen to remain anonymous, pledged $10 million to the project. Gerald Masson, who chairs the Department of Computer Science in the Whiting School, has been named interim director.
Masson said society's increasing reliance on information technology has brought with it rapidly escalating security and privacy concerns, concerns that demand an aggressive response from a university with the existing capabilities and resources of Johns Hopkins.
"This is one of those windows of opportunity that come by rarely," Masson said. "You can either charge through it or watch it pass by, but it's not going to stay open long. The infrastructure is here at Johns Hopkins to make this work."
The institute expects to complete a formal business plan early in 2001 and then will search for a permanent director, solicit business partners and set up advisory committees. The institute plans to conduct its first information security seminars in the spring and expand existing courses and programs in information security as early as the autumn of 2001.
To read more about plans for the Information Security Institute, visit this Web site (requires Adobe Acrobat software) http://www.jhuisi.jhu.edu.