Princeton Research Computing introduces new security system for handling sensitive research study data

Friday, Sep 10, 2021
by Jonathan Garaffa, adapted from original story by Eoin O’Carroll

Princeton Research Computing (PRC), a consortium spearheaded by the Princeton Institute for Computational Science and Engineering and OIT Research Computing, has introduced Citadel, a new secure and compliant research data infrastructure environment. Remotely accessible, the new system enables researchers from anywhere in the world to handle sensitive study data while taking strict measures to prevent unauthorized access.

Studying local families’ day-to-day preparation of their young children for school, the New Jersey Families Study is one of many research projects at Princeton that handles sensitive data. The study involves the collection of hundreds of hours of footage that must be kept private. Along with other projects at Princeton studying private information, the New Jersey Families Study raised the question of how to store and manage this data safely.

This issue of secure data storage and access became even more important as social distancing during COVID-19 limited access to the devices holding this data. Before Citadel, members of the New Jersey Families Study team had to physically view their study footage on a single computer in the study data manager’s office. Utilizing Citadel solved that problem by allowing secure remote access through tightly-secured servers at Princeton’s High-Performance Computing Research Center (HPCRC).

The Citadel system has been designed to meet national standards for data security. Elizabeth Adams, the Director of the Office of Research and Project Administration, noted that more than 80 percent of the research at Princeton is funded by the U.S. federal government, including a range of agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense and NASA. "With that investment from the federal government comes expectations, particularly regarding the generation, transfer and storage of certain data sets necessary to the research," Adams said.

That said, Adams hopes that Citadel will also help Princeton diversify its nonfederal research portfolio, including collaborations with industry, hospitals and foreign sponsors. "[Citadel] opens up avenues for important research at the University with different sectors of society that wouldn't be open otherwise," she said.

Learn more about the Citadel security environment through the original Princeton Research Computing article and the Citadel system description.