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National Security Institute Secures Our Digital World

Nsi radu sion 1

Stony Brook University established the National Security Institute (NSI) in September 2014. NSI’s goal is to become a world leader in research and security technology, education, business and policy, and raising awareness. NSI spans multiple disciplines and establishes public-private partnerships to develop new holistic socio-technological solutions for securing the world’s highly digital societies. It also engages in the education of professionals in defense, national and cybersecurity, assurance, healthcare and policy. A comprehensive assurance education program trains not only Stony Brook students but also the broader corporate and academic community. NSI’s team of experts has helped launch successful security-centric technology startups.

NSI Radu Sion
National Security Institute Director Radu Sion (center) with NSI students.

Dr. Radu Sion, an associate professor of computer science at Stony Brook, is NSI’s Director: “We are extremely proud to be at the forefront of today’s cybersecurity research. To this end, we continuously strengthen our research team and capabilities. In the past 12 months alone, NSI-affiliated researchers have been funded with more than $8 million. According to the National Science Foundation, we are among the largest recipients of awards in the 2015 Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace Program.”

Following are some of the current externally funded NSI research projects.

Fighting Cybercriminals

Long Lu
Long Lu

The cybercriminal community is more organized, better resourced and more motivated than ever to perpetrate massive-scale computer infections across the Internet. The malware distribution systems that they control and operate are characterized by their use of highly specialized suppliers and commoditized malware services. Therefore, criminals with little technical expertise can deploy and administer sophisticated exploit kits and instantiate malicious-content advertising (malvertising) campaigns that infect thousands of innocent victims. Long Lu, and assistant professor of computer science at Stony Brook, was awarded $1.6 million from the National Science Foundation to develop technologies that provide deeper insights as to how malware distribution systems are deployed, operated and interlinked with open web sources. This project is a collaboration with SRI International and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Strengthening Personal Privacy

Donald Porter
Donald Porter

Donald Porter, assistant professor of computer science, and Radu Sion received funding in collaborative international research to study practical plausibly deniable encryption — the ability to hide that given data is on a device, whether the ability exists to decrypt it, or even that the data exists. Plausible deniability is a powerful property to protect data on devices the user has lost physical control over, such as protecting consumers from accidental mass disclosures of private data through misplaced devices. This issue is of particular concern for anyone who travels internationally with sensitive data, including human rights workers, diplomats, military personnel or business travelers. The project is also creating novel teaching materials for low-level flash programming — an increasingly common facet of computer systems that is not widely understood.

Defeating Excessive Web User Tracking

Nick Nickiforakis
Nick Nickiforakis

The ability to track users and their online habits is essential to many online businesses, in particular, the advertisement industry. However, when pursued too aggressively, it intrudes on user privacy and even leads to online crimes. Recent research has shown that tracking companies have started using advanced web tracking techniques that are subtler and less transparent than traditional online tracking. The ever-increasing adoption of mobile devices further exacerbates the tracking problem since these devices are saturated with personal information, while the details of mobile-specific tracking techniques are largely unknown. Nick Nikiforakis, an assistant professor of computer science, and Long Lu received funding from the NSF to study cross-application and cross-platform tracking of web users. First they are investigating current and upcoming tracking techniques used in traditional and mobile platforms. Then they will design and develop effective and lightweight anti-tracking systems that go beyond the current state of the art. This research will help to better understand unwanted online tracking and provide users with the tools and knowledge to control the dissemination of their private information.

Achieving System Resilience through Diversity

Scott Stoller
Scott Stoller

In cyberspace, as in many other domains, diversity provides resilience and is a robust defense against attacks. Many methods of varying computer programs have been proposed to produce diversity from a given initial program. However, these techniques do not vary the core or essence of a program — the algorithms it embodies — and therefore cannot achieve full diversity. Attaining essential diversity requires an algorithm design method that is both powerful and systematic: powerful so that it is able to generate fundamentally different new algorithms, and systematic so that it is able to best explore the large design space to ensure the desired resilience through diversity, while also ensuring algorithm correctness and efficiency. Scott Stoller and Annie Liu, professors of computer science, aim to develop such a method with

Annie Liu
Annie Liu

funding they received from the US Navy Office of Naval Research to study algorithm diversity for resilient systems. This is a unique research endeavor because it is an entirely new dimension for systematic algorithm design.

Mobile Authenticating for Smart Phones
Today’s societies are linked through a vast set of technology-driven networks, mostly mobile based. People with mobile devices become the real-time eyes of the rest of the world, providing insights into remote, hard to access sites and events. However, in critical politically and socially charged settings, it is difficult to determine an acceptable level of trust, especially as current technologies allow easy forging, manipulation and fabrication of data. Radu Sion, in a collaborative study with Florida International University’s Bogdan Carbunar, received NSF funding to study hardware-enforced authentication for mobile systems. They will design and build technology that will endow mobile data with increased authenticity and integrity assurances, primarily “liveness” assurance — proof that the data has been captured live on the actual mobile device and has not been fabricated. The project will investigate, develop and evaluate a framework for secure and efficient sensor-based mobile data verification mechanisms. Ultimately, this research will help establish the credibility of mobile and social media, acting as the required witness to the authenticity of reported data.

As part of a New York SUNY 2020 Interdisciplinary Hiring Initiative, NSI is recruiting faculty whose research interests span a wide spectrum of areas, including Computing Hardware Security, Cloud Computing and Distributed Systems Security, Health Technologies Security, Security and Privacy in Online Social Networks, Big Data Security and Privacy, and Regulatory Compliance and Policy among others.

The NSI is housed in the New Computer Science Building. For more information, email or call (631) 632-8470.

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