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News | June 18, 2021

Science of Security Enhances Research Publishing


NSA conference looks toward the future of cybersecurity

This year’s 8th annual Hot Topics of Science of Security (HoTSoS) conference pioneered a new type of cybersecurity conference—one centered on providing community input to ongoing research and collective community participation in defining the next decade of cybersecurity research.

 “We wanted to have a conference that people wanted to attend and to present at,” said Dr. Adam Tagert, NSA Researcher and General Chair of the conference. “We nailed it with this format focused on discussion. Attendees like to be able to share their perspective on the research and it matters. The presenter can make use of it as it’s an active research project.”

The virtual nature of the event also allowed greater opportunity to engage with the NSA Science of Security (SoS) and Privacy program researchers without the need to travel. Over 1200 individuals registered for HotSoS ’21, breaking the 7th annual HotSoS record, and more than 625 participated over the three days. The participants, a mix of government, academia, and industry, came from 36 countries—demonstrating the far reach of this collaboration.

The participation was likewise reflected in the questions and comments on the work in progress (technical paper) discussions. These sessions lasted for 45 minutes and were led by a respected researcher in the field, three of which were NSA researchers. With questions from the audience, the researchers discussed their paper’s strengths, weakness, areas needing clarification, and future ideas. By having these conversations, researchers obtained feedback before finishing their papers, which will help them to more easily publish higher quality papers to a conference or journal.

HoTSoS ’21 featured eight presentations on the following topics:

  • A study of cybersecurity and elections;
  • An approach to increase costs to “phishers” as a way to reducing malicious cyber actions;
  • A user system to make the web safer even when websites do not deploy defenses;
  • A study developing modeling and risk assessment to secure railway transportation systems;
  • A review of the factors that influence the privacy and security considerations of software developers;
  • A game theoretic approach to apply defenses in Internet of Things (IoT);
  • A system to profile IoT devices on a network to increase understanding of what is connected and happening on the network; and
  • A system to automatically examine app reviews to guide researchers in studying apps used for romantic partner surveillance.

Beyond the works-in-progress discussions, HotSoS featured keynote presentations, presentations of works already published, and student presentations.

 “Speaking at HoTSoS was a great opportunity for us to share our current research with a diverse set of researchers,” said NSA Researcher Nick Felts, who gave a keynote on Securing Data in Clouds: Making the Most of Trusted Hardware. “The virtual format allowed for a large audience, and the live Q&A with Adam following the talk provided us with the opportunity to discuss questions more fully than is usual at in-person conferences.”

HotSoS ’21 also featured a special discussion session where the community could give their perspective for the future research direction of the NSA SoS Program.  The program is beginning a revisit of its five Hard Problems and wanted to gain a broader perspective of the cybersecurity challenges. When the SoS program first launched, SoS Lablet Principal Investigators identified five Hard Cybersecurity Problems to focus on, including: Scalability & Composability, Metrics, Human Behavior, Policy, and Resilient Architectures.

The conference opened a call for ideas and identified 45 topics to discuss. The Hard Problems session consisted of nine small discussion groups followed by a joint session with summaries from the discussion group moderators. The 45 submissions roughly fit into the follow categories.

  • AI Trustworthiness
  • Adversaries
  • Human Behavior
  • Human Weakness
  • Time
  • Rethinking Security Measures
  • Systems
  • Adoption of Tech
  • Data Provenance

In 2022, the 9th Annual HotSoS will be hosted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

For more information on SoS, please visit