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Assistant professor of computer science earns NSF CAREER Award

Ajay Kumar, Eric Gunn and Rohit Chada pose by a desk and computer.

Rohit Chadha, assistant professor of computer science, earned a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for $436,035 in support of research on “Automated analysis of security hyperproperties,” for the next five years. In the foreground are doctoral student Ajay Kumar and undergraduate Eric Gunn.

Rohit Chadha has investigated various aspects of computer security since 2001, when he was working on his doctorate. Fifteen years later, his considerable efforts have paid off with a National Science Foundation CAREER Award for $436,035 in support of the MU computer science assistant professor’s research on “Automated analysis of security hyperproperties,” for the next five years.

“It is easier to break a secure system than to build a secure system,” Chadha said. “A secure system has to guarantee many things such as ensuring that credit card numbers and passwords remain confidential, that a person communicating over Internet is able to authenticate the identity of the other party and ensure the privacy of personal user data.”

Of course, all of these guarantees make the system vastly complex but a “malicious adversary” needs only one tiny pinprick of a flaw to gain entry. Chadha said that technically, these security guarantees are called hyperproperties.

“You not only have to look at all the possibilities to see if each execution is safe or unsafe but also look at sets of executions,” he explained.

“It’s a cat and mouse game,” said Eric Gunn, a computer science senior who Chadha has recruited to help with the project.

Chadha said that his research group is working to develop a suite of tools and techniques to analyze solutions that have been proposed to ensure security ­­­in order to discover their weak points, ultimately leading to the development of more secure systems.

His CAREER project has three targets. Chadha will develop and implement new algorithms for system verification, develop new techniques to scale the analysis and develop theoretical results to reduce the problem of verification of complex systems to that of simpler systems. All of the research findings and tools will be made available to the public. Chadha said by doing so, they can be further improved as others test them.

In addition to addressing the challenges of developing secure systems, Chadha’s project also is aimed at increasing the number of qualified security programmers to work in this ever-increasingly vital field.

A new concentration in computer security will be offered as part of the MU computer science curriculum that will integrate security engineering with software development. In the classroom, students will use the tools Chadha and his team are developing.

“We’re getting better and better [at security] but attacker sophistication also has increased,” Chadha said.