UW Information Technology

September 16, 2019

New study will investigate how to keep smart building technologies secure

To increase energy performance and reduce operational costs, universities and governmental and business organizations, including the University of Washington, are increasingly turning to Internet of Things (IoT) devices and systems to help manage their buildings. But since these devices are connected to the internet and networked to building technology, they can also introduce security vulnerabilities.

Now, a team of UW researchers, in collaboration with UW Facilities and UW Information Technology, is investigating how current university practices and policies can be improved to better secure smart building technologies. Their work is supported by more than $700,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation.

“IoT systems have the potential to deliver tremendous value to Higher Ed institutions when these systems are thoughtfully selected, implemented, and managed,” said Chuck Benson, part of the research team and director of IoT risk mitigation strategy, a new partnership between UW Information Technology and UW Facilities. But substantial planning and coordination across multiple departments is needed, he added. “Institutions that develop and mature these capabilities will have a leg up over peer institutions, and this project will help advance the knowledge needed to develop these capabilities,” he said.

While technical solutions can address part of the problem, information technology (IT) and building operations and maintenance staff can face challenges in working together because of different work cultures, different ways of working, and different points of view about technology. These differences, along with a lack of policies that regulate IoT devices, can increase risk and  vulnerability to cyber attacks.

The research team, led by research scientist, Laura Osburn and Carrie Dossick, faculty in the College of Built Environments, in partnership with Benson and Jessica Beyer,  who co-leads up the Cybersecurity Initiative at the Jackson School for International Studies, will interview IT and operations and maintenance staff at three different universities, as well as IT and operations and maintenance experts across the United States. They will seek to understand how organization, policy, and practice interact and affect the collaborations needed to reduce risks associated with IoT devices and systems.

The goals of the three-year project are to define how IT and operations and maintenance professionals can work better together to mitigate risks and improve the security of buildings with IoT devices and also how policies on data privacy and security can affect their collaboration.

Read the full press release.