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Call for Proposals: The Role of Cybersecurity in the Spread of Disinformation and Misinformation

Background

Virginia’s Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI) aims to create a Commonwealth-wide ecosystem of innovation excellence at the intersection of cybersecurity, autonomous systems, and data. CCI’s mission includes research, innovation, and workforce development.

Many important problems in CCI’s focus area require expertise in the relevant technologies combined with expertise in social/economic/policy/legal/ethical domains. Examples include election security, privacy and ethical concerns with the introduction of artificial intelligence, cyber offensive activities, misinformation, disinformation, data-driven public policy, etc. With CCI, we have a unique opportunity to build multi-disciplinary teams of researchers from across Virginia to collaborate on some of these problems.

The deliberate or inadvertent spread of false information is increasingly viewed as a national security issue with elements of cybersecurity, intelligence and foreign policy going to the heart of how and why these narratives are created, how they flourish, and what we can do about them. In the words of Dr. David Woods, an expert on human factors in cybersecurity and a recent speaker in the CCI seminar series, “disinformation campaigns – emergent and intentional – are the challenge of the next decade.”

Objective

We seek proposals from multi-disciplinary teams in the CCI network to conduct research on the how cybersecurity and artificial intelligence tools and concepts may help to limit, deter, or stop the creation and spread of disinformation and misinformation.

The objectives of the program are: to provide seed funding for multi-disciplinary teams to address a research question that requires the combination of technical expertise in cybersecurity and artificial intelligence with expertise in the social sciences, humanities, and/or law; to generate research findings that advance the state of the art on the topic; and to increase the competitiveness of the teams for extramural funding.

Eligibility

Researchers and faculty members at public institutions of higher education in CCI who are deemed eligible by their home institution to serve as a Principal Investigator (PI) on an external grant are eligible to apply.

Requirements

  • The research topic to be investigated must be aligned with the cybersecurity aspects of the spread of disinformation and misinformation.
  • Projects must involve a multidisciplinary team, with at least one researcher from the relevant technology discipline (typically, Engineering, Computer Science, Math, Statistics, etc.) and at least one researcher from the relevant social science and humanities discipline (typically, Sociology, Psychology, Economics, Political Science, Philosophy, Law, Public Policy, etc.).
  • Multi-university collaborations are encouraged but not required. In multi-university collaborations, one Principal Investigator must be identified as the lead, and the grant will be made to their home institution.
  • A researcher can submit at most one proposal as a PI and one as a co-PI.

Partnerships

This call for proposals is in partnership with the Institute for Society, Culture, and the Environment (ISCE), at Virginia Tech and the National Security Institute, at George Mason University. Our partners have provided advice in the design of the program and call for proposals and will help evaluate and disseminate the results of the program.

Awards

We anticipate funding proposals with a budget that does not exceed $65,000 USD. Budgets should be proportional to anticipated scale of impact. Indirect costs (IDC) are not allowable.

Successful applicants are expected to participate fully in the activities of CCI, including providing materials needed for reports, participation in CCI meetings, and responding to data collection requests by CCI. All publications and presentations resulting from the grant should acknowledge support from the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative (CCI). Grant award letters will supply an example of this acknowledgement.

Schedule

Event

Date

Request for Proposals Released

Feb. 9, 2021

Proposals Due

March 15, 2021 5 p.m. EST

Award Notification

April 16, 2021

Project Dates

June 1, 2021 – May 31, 2022

 

Proposal Submission

The proposal must be submitted via email to proposals@cyberinitiative.org no later than the close of business day (5:00 p.m.) on Monday, March 15, 2021. Be sure to include the subject line CCI Cybersecurity for Disinformation Proposal in the email.

All proposals must be submitted as a single PDF document

Evaluation Criteria

A committee including representatives from CCI will review the proposals and make funding recommendations. Evaluation criteria will include:

  • Strong intellectual merit relevant to CCI’s mission and to the topic of this call,
  • Strong broader impacts related to CCI’s mission,
  • Relevance to the needs of industry and government agencies,
  • Building of multi-disciplinary expertise in Virginia on the role of cybersecurity in curbing the spread of misinformation and disinformation,
  • Potential to generate additional funding and revenue.

Specific questions concerning this RFP and the requirements set forth herein should be directed in writing to the email address: proposals@cyberinitiative.org. Be sure to include the subject line CCI Cybersecurity for Disinformation Proposal in the email.

Proposal Format

Proposals must use 1-inch margins, 11-point font or larger (Arial or Helvetica) and single line spacing. The following outline is to be followed:

1.     Title page (one page)

Title of the proposed project, name, affiliation, and contact information for Principal Investigator (PI) and co-Principal Investigators (co-PIs).

2.     Proposed Project (up to 4 pages)

Rationale: Discussion of the technical background and engineering/scientific justification. This should include a clear statement of the research question to be investigated and a case for the intellectual merit of the proposed work.

Research Plan: What exactly will be done? How will the objectives be met? What are the motivations, methods, likely outcomes, milestones, and future directions? What are the major products of the project (e.g., scholarly publications, policy briefs, grant proposals, presentations to the public, contributions to policy makers, media appearances)?

3.     Impact to the Commonwealth (up to 1 page)

Address the expected impact of the project to Virginia. This may include, for example: specific plans for extramural funding that will be pursued as a result of the project, potential for commercialization and economic development, and/or workforce development in the Commonwealth.

4.     Budget (up to 2 pages)

Budget items and justification.

5.     Biographies

Up to 2 pages each for PI and co-PIs, using NSF format.

 

 

Request for Proposals FAQ

1.    The General Assembly, through VRIC, has directed that all Node-Contributed CCI funds have a 1:1 comparable contribution. These contribution requirements need to align to the four categories outlined in the CCI Blueprint: Research, Regional Innovation Ecosystem, Talent Pipeline, and Operations. We understood this to mean that labor funds must be comparable by labor (remember that salary+fringe+IDC for labor all count), equipment funds by equipment, etc. Since most of the projects we support do NOT purchase equipment or software, labor funding is always what is funded. Fortunately, labor costs also dominate most of the research in cybersecurity being done by CCI partners.

Comparable federal funds (or other non-Commonwealth funds) that support related projects (projects related to cybersecurity, autonomous systems, and data qualify) demonstrate the institution's commitment to this effort. Non-Commonwealth funded projects or non-Commonwealth grants (gifts by a commercial entity, individuals, etc.) related to cybersecurity can count as an acceptable contribution. Otherwise, the faculty member will need to "donate" some labor towards curriculum development (e.g., if 20% Labor is required, she can get funded for 10% and use 10% as a contribution).

Funds from the Virginia Research Investment Fund, Virginia Biosciences Health Research Corporation, Commonwealth Health Research Board, Center for Innovative Technology, Tobacco Commission, GO Virginia or Virginia Economic Development Partnership cannot be used as an acceptable contribution for CCI projects. CCI funds may be used as a demonstrated contribution for grants from federal, foundation, and/or industry sources.

No node-contributed funds that have already been committed as a demonstrated contribution for any other program shall be offered as the basis for CCI comparable funds.

  • Cybersecurity and CPSS-focused experiential learning opportunities (internships, research experiences, etc.) for undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at public institutions; to the extent possible, matching funds for internships should be contributed by the employer hosting the intern (the VRIC work group expects that the employer would be a formal partner to the Node, so the contribution would count as Node-contributed funds)
  • A program that informs and prepares undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in public institutions of higher education to obtain security clearances (program created once and then disseminated across all Nodes)
  • Alignment of undergraduate cybersecurity and CPSS-focused degree program content across Node institutions and with industry needs (as described in the Blueprint)
  • Expansion of curricula at the Cyber Range
  • Expansion of programming at the Cyber Range for PK-12 teachers and community college faculty to promote its use
  • Shared research resources, such as test beds, secure networks, etc., described in Node applications
  • Cross-Node visiting researcher program
  • Build-out of technology transfer office cybersecurity and CPSS expertise; expertise to be shared within the Node and/or across the Network
  • Scouting for cybersecurity and CPSS inventions
  • Patent costs for cybersecurity and CPSS inventions
  • Customer discovery programs; NSF i-Corp-style and i-CAP programs for cybersecurity and CPSS-focused products of research
  • Other support for commercialization of the products of Node-based cybersecurity and CPSS research
  • Collaborative activities across Nodes related to institutional IT security, technology needs of researchers, mutual support agreements, incidence response, etc.

Any Node-contributed funds used for the following activities shall not be offered as the basis for CCI matching funds. CCI matching funds shall not be used for the following activities.

  • Any activity restricted by law, regulation, policy, etc., for the use of state funds (e.g., alcohol, lobbying, etc.)
  • Activities at private PK-12 schools
  • Any costs associated with undergraduate degree growth
  • Any costs associated with designing new undergraduate degree programs
  • Costs of developing and delivering undergraduate capstone programs, except as part of the larger effort to align cyber and CPSS-focused undergraduate program content with industry needs listed under Allowable, above.
  • Portion of salaries and benefits of faculty for time spent teaching undergraduates, including teaching cyber-related courses
  • Fees for security clearances
  • Programs for veterans to transition to cyber and CPSS careers (the Commonwealth has already funded programs such as these)
  • Professional development for incumbent IT workers to gain cybersecurity proficiencies and certifications (the Commonwealth has already funded programs such as these)
  • Costs to develop post-baccalaureate certificate program for graduates who majored in other fields to gain proficiency in cybersecurity and CPSS
  • Scaling of digital fluency across all undergraduate majors
  • Scholarships for costs of attendance at institutions of higher education
  • Stand-alone technology transfer office dedicated only to serving commercialization of Node research
  • CCI funds should be used to build capacity and develop platforms for multifaceted programs, rather than to fund individual research projects (in accordance with the recommendation of the CCI Leadership Council)
  • Talent Pipeline: Before including a Talent Pipeline strategy and associated initiatives in the budget request, Nodes should ensure alignment with the VRIC work group’s discussion explained under Node Strategic Plans, above.
  • Private Institutions of Higher Education (non-profit and for-profit):
    • Experiential Learning: No CCI funds may be used for payments to students enrolled in private institutions of higher education for experiential learning opportunities.
    • Payments to those students from other sources shall not count as the basis for the match of CCI funds.
    • If CCI funds are expended on shared infrastructure located at a public institution of higher education, then private institutions may also use those resources.
    • Nodes may contract with private institutions to provide access to resources for faculty at, and students enrolled in, public institutions.
  • Public PK-12 School Systems: VRIC work group members remind Nodes that PK-12 funding for activities similar to those described in Node applications has routinely been removed from the state budget by the General Assembly. Therefore, caution is advised in requesting funding for PK-12 activities.
    • Developing cyber and CPSS-focused curricula and delivering it to PK-12 public school teachers is an allowable use of funds (created once and disseminated).
    • Cyber and CPSS-focused research experiences at public institutions of higher education for PK-12 teachers is an allowable use of funds.
    • Camps for kids, career exploration fairs and/or other programs that promote general tech sector careers (even those with a cybersecurity component) are usually an unallowable use of funds; however, VRIC will consider meaningful, rigorous, cyber- and CPSS-specific activities for PK-12 students on a case-by-case basis.
  • Virginia Space Grant Consortium: The funds provided by the state to VSGC, including GO Virginia funds, shall not count as Node-contributed funds offered as the basis for CCI matching funds. Nodes may contract with VSCG to provide services to the Node.
  • Indirect Costs and/or Facilities & Administration Costs: CCI funds shall not be used for facilities and administration costs (i.e., indirects). Nodes may offer unrecovered F&A as the basis for matching funds, separately calculated for each of the four broad categories.
  • Endowments: CCI funds shall not be placed in an endowment; expenditures from an endowment may count as Node-contributed funds offered as the basis for CCI matching funds.

Cash Contribution – The most common type of contribution, and the easiest to track, is cash contribution. Cash contribution is either the grantee organization’s own funds or cash donations from other partner organizations. A cash contribution is an actual cash contribution. Example, a business partner provides $10,000 in cash to support a research project.

In-Kind contribution – In-Kind contribution contributions come from the grantee organization or from third party (partner organizations). In-kind contribution is typically in the form of the value of personnel, goods, and services, including direct and indirect costs. In-kind contribution must be documented as to where and how the contribution is calculated. Faculty release time is a common in-kind contribution. Example: A faculty member is working on a new curriculum as part of a CCI sponsored project. His time/effort spent on teaching similar curricula and receiving training on curriculum development can be counted as in-kind contributions.

 

Use this language in all publications submitted as part of CCI sponsored activities:

“This work was supported [in part] by the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative, an investment in the advancement of cyber R&D, innovation, and workforce development. For more information about CCI, visit www.cyberinitiative.org.

Institutions outside Virginia cannot receive CCI funding. Since the objective of CCI is to build the research capacity and increase the cyber workforce in Virginia, faculty from institutions of higher learning outside of Virginia are not allowed to participate in CCI sponsored projects. An exception can be made if the faculty member is hired by one of the CCI partner universities, another CCI node university, as an adjunct faculty member.