DHS S&T Awards $198,600 to Develop Security and Privacy Testing of COVID-19 Contract Tracing Apps

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has awarded $198,600 to AppCensus, a start-up based in El Cerrito, California, to develop testing and validation services for digital contact tracing applications (apps). The phase 1 award was made under S&T’s Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP) Emerging Needs: COVID-19 Response & Future Mitigation solicitation, which addressed multiple near term use-cases in response to the pandemic and prepares DHS for future mitigation. AppCensus is the first of six start-ups to receive a phase 1 award. Awards cover five DHS-specific use cases identified in the solicitation to support COVID-19 response and mitigation.

As the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., private industry and the tech sector developed smartphone-based solutions to automate the manual contact tracing process and DHS wants to ensure that privacy and civil liberties are protected when using them. In this SVIP solicitation, DHS sought potential solutions to enable a robust application testing ecosystem to ensure that digital contact tracing apps are used as intended while protecting individuals’ sensitive and personal information. AppCensus has a platform for analyzing the runtime behaviors of mobile apps and assessing their security and privacy risks at scale. The phase 1 project will adapt this platform to develop an on-demand, automated mobile-app testing system to enhance the security and privacy testing of publicly available android and iOS digital contract tracing apps.

“It is important to safeguard privacy, security, equity and liberty with digital contact tracing and exposure notification applications,” said Anil John, SVIP technical director. “Once adapted and enhanced, the AppCensus platform will provide reports based on consistent tests using openly developed criteria of publicly available digital contract tracing applications to make it easy for people to understand potential privacy and security risks.”

In addition to the testing services, AppCensus will provide a free public microsite with results of the digital contact tracing app testing. The results will include descriptions and sensitivity categorizations for data the apps collect, disclosures from the apps’ publishers and/or developers about what it does with collected data, data collection practices of embedded/connected third-parties detected within the apps, and other relevant information.

To learn more about S&T response efforts to COVID-19 across the Directorate, please visit S&T Support to the COVID-19 Response.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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