Abderrahmen Mtibaa researches ways to improve networking and security of disaster response networks – UMSL Daily

UMSL Assistant Professor Abderrahmen Mtibaa is part of a team of researchers working to address network and security issues that impede public safety and disaster response. (Photo by August Jennewein)

The police response to the deadly May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas has come under intense scrutiny since it was learned the shooter remained at the school. for over an hour before he was finally killed by members of the United States Border Patrol. Tactical unit.

According to Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw.

Abderrahmen Mtibaa, assistant professor of computer science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, wonders if things might have turned out differently had law enforcement officers at the scene had easier access to the school’s network infrastructure, including cameras and motion detectors, which would have allowed them to see inside the classroom as the standoff unfolded.

Or if more lives could be saved in another emergency scenario – perhaps a tornado or earthquake, where communication may be intermittent or unavailable – if first responders are able to access networked devices already there to help locate victims so they can provide assistance.

Mtibaa is part of a five-person research team, led by Professor Satyajayant Misra of New Mexico State University, working to address network and security issues that impede public safety and disaster response. disasters. They hope to create a way for first responders and other good Samaritans to temporarily access available technology tools in disaster scenarios, even when infrastructure might not be functioning normally and without compromising the security of the networks devices are connected to. .

The National Science Foundation awarded them a $1 million grant over three years to support a project called “RINGS: Resilient Edge Ecosystem for Collaborative and Trustworthy Disaster Response (REsCue).”

“When you’re working through a natural disaster or disaster recovery, you’re really going to have to take action very quickly without really having access to those things,” Mtibaa said. “So you really have to have what we call trustless access control. You don’t have any trust in these people, and you have to allow them access. Of course, how can you do that by maintaining a certain level of safety, responsibility, everything?That’s what we’re really working on and what interests us.

Mtibaa works with some of his former colleagues in New Mexico State – where he worked from 2017 to 2019 before joining UMSL. Among them are Misra as well as Reza Tourani, a former PhD student from New Mexico State who is now an assistant professor of computer science at Saint Louis University. They have been collaborating on related research since 2017.

The team was one of 37 research groups to receive NSF funding under a $37 million public-private partnership called the Resilient and Intelligent Next Generation Systems, or RINGS, program. RINGS is focused on accelerating research in wireless and mobile communications, networking, sensing, computing systems and services globally, and NSF works with industry partners such as Apple , Ericsson, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, Qualcomm and VMware.

“The fact that the project has been accepted is proof for us that what we are doing is not just research or cutting-edge work,” Mtibaa said. “It’s equally applicable and relevant to real-world apps or businesses.”

Mtibaa will primarily focus on integrating autonomous networks into a cooperative “network of networks” and ensuring its resilience during times of disruption.

The project also aims to ensure security, as there are many examples of malicious actors exploiting disaster scenarios to commit crimes or even launch cyberattacks. Mtibaa and his colleagues aim to create an effective method of verifying communications from untrusted users.

They held a kick-off meeting where they pitched their ideas and proposal to industry partners and discussed potential collaborations and mutual interests.

Funding of over $250,000 that will be directed to UMSL for the Mtibaa portion of the project will support the hiring of at least one PhD student for the three years of the project. Mtibaa will also purchase equipment to build a networking testbed to test and evaluate the proposed schemes.

He considers it fortunate that Tourani and one or more SLU students are also working on the project in St. Louis.

“The proximity is actually good,” Mtibaa said. “Students can go and meet. They can really debug instead of doing things totally remotely. We will have an annual meeting where all the students can meet, but generally these meetings are an opportunity for the students to present what they have been doing. When you write code and debug it will be even more beneficial – the fact that they are really side by side. It’s definitely a big plus. »

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