Sandia's cyber 'coffee shop' promotes security collaboration

Sandia National Laboratories has opened a cybersecurity research center in the Bay Area of California to provide an open but still secure environment for collaboration among government, industry and academia.

The Cybersecurity Technologies Research Laboratory, formally opened June 12, will be something of a secure coffee shop where professionals will be able to work and exchange information in a controlled environment, but without the restrictions normally required in a national laboratory, said Sandia’s Jim Costa, senior manager of computational sciences and analysis.

“We wanted a safe place that we could talk about stuff,” Costa said. “We needed a more open environment.”

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The CTRL is housed at the Livermore Valley Open Campus, a 110-acre campus shared by Sandia and the Lawrence Livermore National Lab in Livermore, Calif., established in 2011 as a setting for collaborative research. The new lab hosts students from Sandia’s Center for Cyber Defenders internship program and provides office space for academic and industrial partners.

Sandia, a part of the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration that also has facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., has been working in cybersecurity since critical U.S. command and control systems began going digital half a century ago, Costa said.

“We’ve been in cybersecurity since the ’60s, and maybe even earlier,” he said.

As the threat landscape has evolved and the scope of cybersecurity has expanded throughout the world’s infrastructure and economy, the research, education and operation have expanded beyond institutional boundaries. The lab works with corporations, universities and other national labs and agencies, including the Homeland Security Department’s National Cybersecurity Division. But the cooperation sometimes is hampered by government security requirements.

Foreign nationals can face hurdles in getting access to government facilities, and security clearances can be a barrier for U.S. citizens outside of government. “They don’t want clearances because it restricts their academic freedom,” Costa said.

The new lab will be able to accommodate outside researchers more quickly and in a friendlier environment at the CTRL while still maintaining security. The Bay Area, near Silicon Valley, was chosen because of the concentration of high-tech companies and universities Sandia and other national labs already are working with.

Specific goals of the new lab include:

  • Developing the science and computing foundation necessary for robust cybersecurity research and development.
  • Developing relationships to help understand the full range of threat concerns facing industry, government and academia.
  • Developing, testing and helping implement cybersecurity approaches in real-world situations.
  • Promoting the various technical domains that support the advancement of cybersecurity.
  • Developing political and social awareness of the real, imminent threat and their consequences.
  • Providing a window on open cybersecurity work throughout Sandia, as well as acting as a Bay Area resource for open work performed at Sandia’s New Mexico location.

Work at the lab will cover the full spectrum of cybersecurity, from hardware and software security and the supply chain, to threat analysis and response, to technical and physical consequences. It also will help promote development of a professional cybersecurity workforce, which Costa said has been done on a retail scale and needs to be moved to the wholesale level.

The Sandia facility is not unique in its more open approach to collaboration, but such environments are not common enough, Costa said. Balancing the requirements of openness and security in sharing sensitive information is not easy.

“This is a bit of a risk,” he said of the new center. “I won’t say everyone is happy with it,” but it is necessary to make the effort.


About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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