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Research Integrity

Security tool kit released to help scientists identify threats

US intelligence agency partners with science funders and policy makers to create guide for academia and industry

by Andrea Widener
November 17, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 41


The US National Counterintelligence and Security Center (NCSC) has teamed up with research funders and policy makers to help scientists identify and protect against threats to research and technology.

Key areas of security concern

Last year, the National Counterintelligence and Security Center identified five technology areas with the greatest threat of theft from foreign countries, primarily China. The research areas are:

Artificial intelligence
Autonomous systems

Source: National Counterintelligence and Security Center.

The team created a web-based tool kit, Safeguarding Science, designed to be a one-stop shop for people who have questions about protecting their work from theft, abuse, misuse, or exploitation.

The tool kit should “empower the community to develop their own security so they can protect themselves,” NCSC acting director Michael Orlando said in a Nov. 15 press conference. The intelligence community has seen nation-state actors target many areas, but scientists “can better protect themselves with some assistance from the government,” he says.

Rebecca Morgan, the NCSC’s assistant director for enterprise threat mitigation, says that when she met with people to talk about threats, she found herself cobbling together emails afterward because there wasn’t one place online to send them for vetted, unclassified information. That is what inspired the tool kit.

It contains a wide range of security information, including details about threats, supply chains, and personal and physical security. The tool kit will be updated regularly with the newest information about government policies on security and about threats that the scientific community faces. For example, the National Science Foundation, which helped develop the website, plans to upload research security training modules to help scientists comply with new government security rules.

Scientists need to understand why they are being asked to step up their research security, says Gregory F. Strouse, senior adviser to the associate director for laboratory programs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, which contributed to the tool kit. “Once they understand that ‘why’ question, the implementation becomes effortless,” he says.

Toby Smith, senior vice president for science policy and global affairs at the Association of American Universities, hopes university administrators and faculty will use the tool kit to understand how the environment has changed. “It is about protecting the things we value in science,” he says.



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