Cees de Laat, chair of the group: ‘The market places for sharing data that we develop are similar to Netflix. You rent a movie, but you can’t just pass the movie on to someone else.’
The Complex Cyber Infrastructure (CCI) group is part of the Informatics Institute at the University of Amsterdam. CCI focuses on the complexity of man-made systems on all scales. This scale can be small, like the devices that you carry with you, or the apps they are running, or the communication protocols these apps use to interact. It can be also comprehensive, as in large systems such as data centres or multi-domain networks.
The complexity of these systems is caused by the fact that more and more cyber infrastructure - e.g. routers, switches, the cloud - is reprogrammable nowadays. This offers many possibilities, but it also makes the equipment more difficult to operate and less transparent. Further, there is the complexity of mapping in computational terms the data sharing requirements which are defined at societal level, through legislation, organizational policies, private data-sharing agreements, and consents.
What follows is the predominant question the group is trying to answer: How can organizations share their precious data, compute models and insights within a complex cyber infrastructure in a trustworthy and transparent way?
Within AMdEX, one of the largest projects of the CCI group, researchers are working on solutions for this problem. They apply the newest computer science methods to build digital market places where every organization can open its own data or algorithm boot. Each organization determines its own conditions under which the data or algorithms may be used. An agreement of an airline could be: 'You can use our data for better maintenance of your aircraft engines, but you cannot look at the same or other data to extract our profit margins.' The CCI group is investigating what new technologies, such as encryption, dynamic policy management, keys or sandboxing, can be used to enforce these agreements in the infrastructure of the system to reduce the risk of unwanted leakage to an acceptable level.
The CCI group has a strong funding track record and received several EU Horizon2020 and NWO grants in recent years. The grant turnover is about 1 million euro a year and a similar amount comes from education. The Security and Network Engineering Master consistently scores in the top 5 of the Dutch Beta masters.
What makes this research group unique is the objective to allow competing organizations to work together to achieve common goals. The aforementioned AMdEX project is not only interesting for science and industry, but also for society. The project is working on solutions to increase the autonomy of data providers and of data consumers. Besides industry partners, there are collaborations with parties like Nikhef, SURF, the eScience Center, the Amsterdam Economic Board and the City of Amsterdam. In addition to issues like transparency and security, we are investigating important questions related to trustworthiness and explainability.
Within other projects, CCI is also working on secure and reliable infrastructure for sharing data and insights. For the Da4ta Logistics for Logistics Data (DL4LD) project, the group works together with KLM, SURF, CIENA, the City of Amsterdam and Thales on a secure digital market place. And for the Enabling Personalized Interventions (EPI) project the group is working on a healthcare platform to share big data insights. A large group of partners is involved in this project, including Philips, the St. Antonius hospital, Prinses Maxima Center, CWI, KPMG and the UMC Utrecht.
One of CCI's most important goals is to contribute to a 'level playing field' where not only big tech companies control all data, but organizations and consumers regain the autonomy over their data and understand how they are impacted by decisions, generated by algorithms.
To achieve this, the group wants to further develop the 'Data Exchange and Processing Fabric'. This is a cyber infrastructure that goes all over the world in a controllable way, to allow scientists to exchange their data and insights in a safe and efficient way. This network is still experimental, but CCI wants to expand this within the AMdEX project and make it available to the industry.