Open science infrastructure (OSI), such as platforms for sharing research products or conducting analyses, is vulnerable to security threats and misappropriation. Because these systems are designed to be inclusive and accessible, they often require few credentials of their users. However, this quality also puts OSI at risk for attack and misuse. Seeking to provide quality tools to their users, OSI builders dedicate their often scant funding resources to addressing these security issues, sometimes delaying other important software work.
To support these teams and allow for timely resolution to security problems, science funders should offer security-focused grant supplements to funded OSI projects.
Existing federal policy and funding programs recognize the importance of security to scholarly infrastructure like OSI. For example, in October 2023, President Biden issued an Executive Order to manage the risks of artificial intelligence (AI) and ensure these technologies are safe, secure, and trustworthy. Also, under the Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provides grants to ensure the security of cyberinfrastructure and asks scholars who collect data to plan for its secure storage and sharing. Furthermore, agencies like NSF and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) already offer supplements for existing grants. What is still needed is rapid dispersal of funds to address unanticipated security concerns across scientific domains.
Risks like secure shell (SSH) attacks, data poisoning, and the proliferation of mis/disinformation on OSI threaten the utility, sustainability, and reputation of OSI. These concerns are urgent. New access to powerful generative AI tools, for instance, makes it easy to create disinformation that can convincingly mimic the rigorous science shared via OSI. In fact, increased open access to science can accelerate the proliferation of AI-generated scholarly disinformation by improving the accuracy of the models that generate it.
OSI is commonly funded by grants that afford little support for the maintenance work that could stop misappropriation and security threats. Without financial resources and an explicit commitment to a funder, it is difficult for software teams to prioritize these efforts. To ensure uptake of OSI and its continued utility, these teams must have greater access to financial resources and relevant talent to address these security concerns and norms violations.
Security concerns may be unanticipated and urgent, not aligning with calls for research proposals. To provide support for OSI with security risks in a timely manner, executive action should be taken through federal agencies funding science infrastructure (NSF, NIH, NASA, DOE, DOD, NOAA). These agencies should offer research supplements to address OSI misappropriation and security threats. Supplement requests would be subject to internal review by funding agencies but not subject to peer review, allowing teams to circumvent a lengthier review process for a full grant proposal. Research supplements, unlike full grant proposals, will allow researchers to nimbly respond to novel security concerns that arise after they receive their initial funding. Additionally, researchers who are less familiar with security issues but who provide OSI may not anticipate all relevant threats when the project is conceived and initial funding is distributed (managers of from-scratch science gateways are one possible example). Supplying funds through supplements when the need arises can protect sensitive data and infrastructure.
These research supplements can be made available to principal investigators and co-principal investigators with active awards. Supplements may be used to support additional or existing personnel, allowing OSI builders to bring new expertise to their teams as necessary. To ensure that funds can address unanticipated security issues in OSI from a variety of scholarly domains, supplement recipients need not be funded under an existing program to explicitly support open science infrastructure (e.g., NSF’s POSE program).
To minimize the administrative burden of review, applications for supplements should be kept short (e.g., no more than five pages, excluding budget) and should include the following:
- A description of the security issue to be addressed
- A convincing argument that the infrastructure has goals of increasing the inclusion, accessibility, and/or transparency of science and that those goals are exacerbating the relevant security threat
- A description of the steps to be taken to address the security issue and a well-supported argument that the funded researchers have the expertise and tools necessary to carry those steps out
- A brief description of the original grant’s scope, making evident that the supplemental funding will support work outside of the original scope
- An explanation as to why a grant supplement is more appropriate for their circumstances than a new full grant application
- A budget for the work
By appropriating $3 million annually across federal science funders, 40 supplemental awards of $75,000 each could be distributed to OSI projects. While the budget needed to address each security issue will vary, this estimate demonstrates the reach that these supplements could have.
Research software like OSI often struggles to find funding for maintenance. These much-needed supplemental funds will ensure that OSI developers can speedily prioritize important security-related work without doing so at the expense of other planned software work. Without this funding, we risk compromising the reputation of open science, consuming precious development resources allocated to other tasks, and negatively affecting OSI users’ experience. Grant supplements to address OSI security threats and misappropriation ensure the sustainability of OSI going forward.
While the U.S. government grapples with the definition of the bioeconomy and what sectors it does and does not contain, another definitional issue needs to be addressed: What does sustainability mean in a bioeconomy?
Federal clearinghouses should incorporate open science practices into their standards and procedures used to identify evidence-based social programs eligible for federal funding.
To better address security and sustainability of open source software, the United States should establish a Digital Technology Fund through multi-stakeholder participation.
Building on existing data and privacy efforts, the White House and federal science agencies should collaborate to develop and implement clear standards for research data privacy across the data management and sharing life cycle.