The fifth generation of cellular networks (5G) is now a reality which is starting to be implemented, and they are soon to be used in our everyday life, but this scenario has certain particularities that make it sensitive to attacks of different nature. The goal at NICS lab is to provide proactive security solutions for 5G; that is not only be able to provide real-time security solutions, but also be able to prepare the 5G infrastructure to act proactively. This requires defining the security requirements and deploying the basic enablers (e.g. specific software and hardware devices for security tasks) before deploying other security solutions. Thus, an important part of our research is to model different 5G scenarios in realistic simulations which make it possible for us to analyse the potential problems and offer solutions to them.
For example, one of the main concerns is the vulnerability of 5G networks to be taken down by rogue agents that appear to be normal users. 5G networks rely on technologies such as mmWave, which use small interconnected relays operating in EHF (Extremely High Frequency), ranging from 110 to 300 GHz. This means that the wavelength used is really short (from 1mm to 1cm), causing the signal to be vulnerable to interferences, such as rain or buildings, and, therefore, needing additional devices for increasing the radio coverage. These devices are very sensible to jamming and other proximity-based attacks, and other open challenges in different areas. However, to the well-known jamming and eavesdropping attacks, in recent years malware-based attacks has been added to the list of potential threats, as is highlighted in the last ENISA 5G theat landscape report. These new and advanced threats will make it very difficult to stop the attacks in 5G environments before they will be propagated, even towards different layers, causing serious damages to either the infrastructure or the users.
The current research at NICS Lab is focused on three main areas: i) detection and analysis of cross-layer attacks, ii) proactive digital forensics in 5G - and, in particular, how this can be useful to trace proximity-based attacks, and iii) security and QoS tradeoffs.
Blockchain has become a huge research area covering many topics related to distributed systems and new governance and trust paradigms. It opens new possibilities for scenarios where centralized solutions do not fit well, but it also poses new challenges that need to be overcome. Some of the newest areas in which blockchain is trying to make a difference are precisely "Industry 4.0", "Energy", "Supply Chain", "Mobility", where there are many open challenges related to traceability, peer to peer networks and trust.
Our first steps into the decentralized world date back to 2016. It all started as a collaboration with ZeroDB Inc. to put in practice our ideas related to how to apply proxy re-encryption to big data infrastructures (Crypto@ZeroDB). As a continuation to this work, NICS Lab actively participated in the definition and development of the NuCypher network (Crypto4BC), a decentralized Proxy Re-Encryption service that uses the Ethereum blockchain to enforce access control policies and implement network governance. In essence, it provides a decentralized key management system based on Ethereum, that offers cryptographically enforced access control services. This system operates in a decentralized way and uses advanced cryptographic techniques developed by NICS Lab, such as proxy re-encryption, threshold cryptography and zero-knowledge proofs, that securely embed access control functionality at the encryption level. The goal of this project is to create a basic infrastructure for the development of secure DApps (decentralized applications), which will, in turn, lead to numerous applications in many fields, such as fintech, identity management, and Digital Rights Management (DRM).
We have also worked in other scenarios such as Industry 4.0, supply chain and mobility. Regarding Industry 4.0, blockchain technologies can be used to record, trace and manage anomalies, which are essential to detect or predict potential threats in operational networks. In SADECEI-4.0 and Smart and Secure EV Urban Lab II we are working on combining blockchain with Artificial Intelligence (AI) techniques, in order to derive stealthy threats such as Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). In the same line, we are working in the European project SealedGRID on how to dynamically manage secure access to remote energy substations, and update security policies if necessary. As for Supply Chain, the CyberSec4Europe project focuses on two use cases; one related to dispute resolution in the retail supply chain, and another related to the compliance and accountability in distributed manufacturing; both applying Blockchain as key tool for traceability and accountability. For Mobility, current standards for vehicular communications have chosen to inherit traditional centralized approaches based on public key infrastructures with some enhancements in order to accommodate privacy requirements. Within the SAVE project we are investigating how to integrate blockchain in mobility scenarios in order to take advantage of its benefits.
Regarding blockchain infrastructure support, we are contributing a node to the Alastria network in partnership with the Malaga Tech Park (PTA). Alastria is a national initiative that offers two permissioned blockchain networks to its partners: Network T (based on Quorum) and Network B (based on Hyperledger Besu). We are also contributing a node to the NuCypher network, through the NuCypher University Staking Program, a Hyperledger Fabric node for experimentation in Supply Chain scenarios for the CyberSec4Europe project and a Hyperledger Besu network for Digital Twin scenarios (SADECEI-4.0) and monitoring of electric vehicle charging points (Smart and Secure EV Urban Lab II). In addition to this, NICS Lab has a Blockchain network connected to I4Testbed, with direct connection to a Digital Twin as mentioned above.
The Cloud Computing concept appeared as a response to the necessity of bringing computation and storage services following a flexible and on-demand business model. However, from its conception the cloud computing paradigm, and its associated nature of outsourced data management and computation, has bring also some security and privacy problems. Security in cloud computing has been traditionally regarded as one of the major concerns by enterprises and organizations. Moreover, there is no global and harmonized policies for data protection among different countries, which makes interoperability difficult both at legal and technical levels. Trust in the different actors that conform the cloud ecosystem is also a challenging issue, since the cloud model is inherently opaque. All these problems have hindered the adoption of cloud computing.
For example, the problem of accountability (e.g., "who is responsible of the security and proper stewardship of my data in the cloud?") has not a clear answer nowadays, as there is no accountability frameworks for distributed IT services. This leads to difficulty for users to understand, influence and determine how their service providers respond to their obligations. To this matter, NICS participates in the FP7 project A4Cloud, which aims to extend accountability across entire cloud service value chains, covering personal and business sensitive information in the cloud. A4Cloud will create solutions to support users in deciding and tracking how their data is used by cloud service providers.
Computing has become a major focus in many research areas. One of the current trends in cloud computing is the federation of different cloud providers. A federation of clouds would enable local cloud providers (i.e., SMEs) to build business alliances with other cloud providers (possibly scattered around the globe), for offering more competitive solutions. In this direction, NICS is working on the FISICCO project, where we aim to develop and integrate of services for federating and interconnecting cloud computing infrastructures in a secure way, through the extension of existing interconnection architectures and the definition of new connectors. FISICCO can be seen as an extension of existing interconnection architectures, that will lead cloud computing to an upper level of interoperability. Another research area within this project is addressing the problem of privacy and data confidentiality in cloud-based identity services using cryptographic means.
There are different deployment models depending on the level of abstraction used to define the services offered by the Cloud. The lower level, also known as Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), deals with the hardware and virtualization techniques. How resources communicate in such a distributed setup and how interactions are authenticated is still work in progress. In the PASSIVE project we have worked towards an authentication scheme for applications, users and resources that is suitable for its use in large and highly dynamic deployments such as the Cloud.
Critical (Information) Infrastructures Protection (CIIP/CIP) has become one of the most cutting-edge research areas in recent years. Private and public entities are joining efforts to offer more attractive solutions that help governments/industries to protect their infrastructures. Within the CIIP field, we highlight Industry 4.0 by expanding the monitoring capacities of the traditional control systems (commonly known as Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition - SCADA - systems), and allowing the IT-OT (Information Technology and Operation Technology) convergence in control domains. Part of this convergence entails the pragmatic adaptation of new paradigms and technologies, among which we stress: Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Cyber-Physical Systems (CPSs). All these technologies are capable of processing and storing industrial data, digitalising processes and addressing new "smart" services to improve the production and distribution costs, economy and society. Although the benefits are evident for the existing critical infrastructures, the technological complexities may hamper the functional processes and bring about multiple types of security risks, which may not help to prevent and mitigate advanced attacks such as Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs).
Over the last years, NICS Lab has dedicated part of its time on researching CPS and IIoT security issues, providing specific solutions for situation awareness (prevention, detection, response), resilience and secure interconnection of critical federated environments such as Smart Grid utilities. Many of these solutions have been framed within the context of research projects in the areas of Industry 4.0 (CyberSec4Europe, SADCIP, DISS-IIoT, SADECEI-4.0) and CIP (mainly centered on SCADA systems: PISCIS, ATENEA, eCID and CRISIS), as well as part of a number of other highly critical sectors such as energy (SealedGRID, CAIN, PERSIST, TIGRIS, SECRET, PROTECT-IC), water (FACIES) and healthcare (CYBSEC-TECH). In this sense, theoretical models (structural controllability, Opinion Dynamics), technologies and paradigms (CPS, IIoT), standards (IEC-62351, NIST-7628/800-82) and protocols (Modbus, OCPP, ZigBee PRO, WirelessHART, ISA100.11a) have been broadly considered to provide solid solutions under feasible and flexible specifications. At this stage, we are going a step beyond and deal with the new industrial virtualization paradigm, the Digital Twin, through SADECEI-4.0, and establish the first cybsersecurity roadmap in Supply Chain as a result of our work in CyberSec4Europe.
When the security of a system is broken or put into question, Digital Forensics is the discipline that can help to determine what happened. Digital Forensics science arises as a result of the evolution of technology and as such should continue progressing in order to cover the analysis of new use cases for the prosecution of cybercriminals. For instance, the inclusion of the Internet of Things (IoT) paradigm brings to the cybercrime scene countless heterogeneous devices for which there are no well defined digital forensics techniques to acquire and analyse the digital evidence. Some solutions have emerged during the past few years, but there are still very specific and difficult to serve as a common framework for the digital forensic community. Some processes for digital forensics require to stop or interrupt the services in the platforms to be analysed. However, as an intrinsic part of the new scenarios, there are multiple systems that cannot be interrupted or from which the digital evidence cannot be acquired easily because the interfaces or the protocols used are proprietary or unknown. Also, with the increasing number of devices and also the massive use of social networks and applications, the volume of data to be analysed during a digital investigation can increase considerably. New solutions to correlate data and demonstrate the provenance of the digital evidence becomes critical. In this regard, one of the current challenges to be investigated is data normalisation for digital evidence management, a problem that is also affecting to current SIEMs. While there are novel solutions for digital forensics, these are below its potential; new solutions must be designed in order to take advantage of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and Threat Intelligence services. Moreover, this becomes critical for malware analysis, a new discipline which has emerged as an evolution of digital forensics but with enough entity to require new methodologies and criteria for the analysis. For example, it is very important to identify if an attack is directed or if, instead, it is random. Being able to track the origin of the malware is one of the current open problems. The integration of existent techniques and services for digital forensics with new methodologies for those scenarios (and new ones to appear) is crucial to understand the context of the digital investigation and also to improve the security solutions, discouraging disloyalty, malicious and unfair use of technologies.
It is hard to find a globally accepted definition of the term Identity and even harder to precisely define what is understood by Identity Management. User Authentication, Access Control and Privilege Management form the core three aspects of Identity Management that have been the focus of NICS research from the very beginning. With the emergence of the Internet of Services, more and more complex aspects regarding identity have arisen, most of them related with its interoperability. There have been many developments in this field that have derived in the specification of standards for Identity Federation services. Those developments have motivated further research on related areas such as Trust Management and User Privacy.
At NICS we have covered most of the research areas that fall under Identity Management, some of them as a primary focus and some others transversally in the context of another research area. In a national project called PRIVILEGE we focused on the definition of a common framework for privilege management paying special attention to delegation and how to provide anonymity in attribute certificates. The work developed by NICS at the European project SPIKE focuses on the development of agile solutions for the authentication, authorisation and identity federation for allied companies. In the PICOS European project we concentrated on the privacy issues arising from the use of social community services.
Additionally, we have worked on the application of identity management systems in Future Internet scenarios. Cloud Computing promises a plethora of services in the cloud, among them there exists an opportunity to externalise the Identity Management service bringing great security and privacy concerns. Some solutions to these problems have been provided within the FISSICO project. Besides user authentication, we worked towards the authentication and authorisation of applications and resources within the PASSIVE and OSAMI projects. Another core element of the Future Internet are smart environments where the user interacts with objects surrounding him. NICS has also developed a privacy-aware user authentication solution that allows users to access proximity-based services without disclosing personally identifiable information.
The vision of the Internet of Things (IoT) has evolved from its core premise (“a worldwide network of interconnected entities”) in a multitude of ways. The ‘things’ themselves now encompass not only RFID tags and sensor devices, but also complex systems like connected cars, consumer devices (TVs and cameras), and even basic facilities (fridges, doors). Moreover, the concept of the IoT itself can be instantiated in multiple ways, such as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the Internet of Everything; and is also related to many paradigms, such as Cyber-Physical Systems and Fog/Edge Computing. Still, there will be always various security challenges that need to be addressed: from protocol and network security to entity authentication, anomaly detection, privacy, and trust [Roman2018]. In fact, as we pointed out in our firsts analyses of this subject (SPRINT, NESSoS), security and privacy are of paramount importance for the successful adoption of this new paradigm: in a world with potentially billions of things, the number of attack vectors available to malicious attackers will be staggering. Moreover, such attacks will target our everyday things (cars, appliances, etc) - and our everyday lives.
Due to these reasons, over the last few years NICS has worked on various IoT security and privacy challenges. Some of these challenges, such as threat detection (intrusion detection, IoT honeypots), trust management, entity anonymity, and security infrastructures, are being studied in the context of Industry 4.0 (DISS-IoT, SADCIP), and Edge Computing (SMOG), among other areas like digital forensics and 5G (IoTest) and smart transportation (EV-UrbanLab). Other contributions include protection mechanisms such as secure communications, entity authentication, security and quality of service, and anomaly detection, which were studied in the context of smart metering and smart street lighting (TIGRIS), smart cities (ENVIA, BIO-VIA), e-Health [Najera12], and intelligent transport systems (DEPHISIT).
The network communication grounds (and among them, distance and lack of trust) makes translation of paper-based procedures to networked digital ones not a trivial task. Thus, in order to realise security in Internet (or any other networked including mobile) applications, special protocols are needed to ensure that any dispute could be solved between users if the network fails or an entity misbehaves. In the computer security field, these protocols are known as non-repudiation protocols, a key element for the provision of the non-repudiation service as standardised by the ITU-T X.813.
Research oriented to non-repudiation protocols has been active since the beginning of this millennium; considering in most occasions only two parties as the players of the protocol design scenario. The work in NICS has been focused in multi-party non-repudiation protocols analysis, design, simulation and implementation. This work covers from general designs and analysis to application-driven design and implementation (as the non-repudiation supported OMA-DRM framework developed in the UBISEC project). At the same time, multi-party non repudiation protocols serve as the basis for other value-added services like Certified Electronic Mail and Contract Signing protocols. In this direction NICS has designed optimal multi-party protocols and studied their properties compatibility.
Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID) technology provides a seamless link between the items of the physical world and the information system including identification, information and computation capabilities. Due to this, it is being adopted in several sectors and is expected to be a key technology in the upcoming Internet of Things. However, its features turn it into a double-edge sword which arise several privacy and anonymity threats which combined with its extremely constrained computation and communication capabilities has turned RFID security into a relevant and complex research field.
From our group, we have and are working on the secure integration of RFID technology in a variety of scenarios. Up to now, our research has focused in two main scenarios: personal documentation and healthcare environments, both supported by research projects. In the context of the IDENTICA project, we focused on the secure integration of RFID technology in personal documentation. We introduced our concept of secure hybrid documentation and provided suitable mechanisms to improve their security properties. Part of this work included a fully functional prototype implementation of a robust and reliable key management infrastructure to manage the keys required for access the tag and establish a secure communication channel in RFID-based documents.
In the context of the CIES project, we devised the integration of RFID technology in healthcare environments in order ro improve reliability and safety of involved processes with the provision of two lab-tested solutions. First, we proposed a secure RFID-based medical equipment tracking system for healthcare facilities enabling both real-time locations and theft prevention which lab testing showed up relevant limitations of RFID technology. Moreover, we analyzed and provided a solution for care and control of patients in a hospital. Our prototype provides a secure backup data source from personnel and patients' tags, as well as an offline working mode which increase application reliability and patient's safety.
Security has traditionally been considered once the system is implemented and deployed as an after-the-fact property. This has led to poor security solutions in the form of patches that solve security problems only when a security incident has already caused damage. The area of secure software engineering takes a preventive approach by considering security in every phase of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC).
The underlying idea of secure software and service engineering is that software must be built with a security mind-set from the very beginning. Security is a cross-cutting concern that spans along the whole SDLC, from requirements engineering to assurance. Tackling security in every phase in a consistent and holistic way is thus a necessity to build trustworthy services and systems.
We have approached this area by considering both the SDLC as a whole and some of its stages. In the first direction, we have elaborated on development processes and assurance-based development methodologies. In the latter approach, mainly framed within the NESSoS EU project, we are concerned with security requirements specification and security frameworks for assisting during the architecture and implementation phases of the SDLC. In particular, one of our primary focus is on how to include trust and reputation requirements and models as part of systems from the very beginning, and not after-the-fact in an ad-hoc manner, which has been the standard for many years.
Since their origins trust management systems have been used in order to assist entities that have to interact with others in a system. It has been a very important tool for the decision-making process. Sometimes, the information available about the other entities is not enough for establishing a secure exchange of information, but still the interaction must take place. Trust management systems try to supply this lack of information. In the last years, due to the growth of electronic communications and transactions, reputation systems have been developed to aid trust management systems for assisting the trust decision process.
In order to establish the trust relationship a trust management system is usually composed of a symbolic language for representing trust and a way of measuring trust (trust metrics), that derives the trust assessment.
The research carried out at NICS in this topic has followed different approaches. At the first stages we mainly concentrated on designing different trust models for different applications. Then, our research considered the inclusion of trust and reputation management since the beginning of the development of software services by following the Software Development LifeCycle. Using this approach we have gone a step forward and have considered the development of different trust models (decision and evaluation-based trust models). Lately, we have developed a framework for the inclusion of trust and reputation to the design and development of IoT scenarios.
Wireless Sensor Networks, or WSN, have evolved in the past years from a promising research field to a useful technology applicable to numerous scenarios, such as home and industrial environments. Security is a key factor for the successful deployment of this type of networks, as there are multiple issues (e.g. the capabilities of the nodes and the existence of multiple attack points) that must be carefully considered in order to assure a fault tolerant provisioning of protected services. The importance of security is acknowledged by current WSN specifications, such as Zigbee or ISA100.11a, which define their own security mechanisms and protocols.
Moreover, there are also incoming standards strictly focused on WSN security, such as ISO/IEC 29180 and ITU-IT X.1312. Nevertheless, as security is highly related to the needs of an application and its environment, NICS has been working on the analysis and development of security mechanisms specially adapted for the requirements of WSN applications. Not only NICS has studied different areas such as the use of cryptographic algorithms, the distribution of keying material, and the existence of network status systems, but also has provided some guidelines to integrate those mechanisms in middleware architectures (project SMEPP). Moreover, although WSN is a strategic component of the future Internet of Things, there are still various security challenges that need to be solved from a local perspective. Such challenges were analyzed by NICS in the projects ARES and SPRINT.