Students receive grant, look to improve data security

Nov. 3, 2014

Jonathan Toman
[email protected]

A team of four students and a UCCS professor are watching out for your cybersecurity, even if you aren’t.

Earlier this month, the team was awarded a $70,000 grant from Northrop Grumman to help research a new network device to stamp where a request comes from, according to computer science professor C. Edward Chow.

“As with any research, you’re looking at the ideas, can you design and implement them,” said Chow.

Chow will serve as the principal investigator, mentor and give some direction to the students, but the students themselves will create the programming and software. The grant will pay for equipment and a weekly student stipend.

The students on the team are Ph.D. student Philip Huynh, Ph.D. student Joshua Alcorn, master’s student Scott Melton and senior Bachelor of Innovation in computer science student Charlie Wang.

Each student will have a different section of the project they are responsible for. Huynh and Alcorn will use the information as part of their dissertation.

“They’re hungry for topics, so I have very little need to urge them to do it,” said Chow.

Currently, a network will receive requests but there is no way to identify where they come from. The research Chow and his team are doing will look to create a program that will wrap around the data and determine the proximity of a request.

The tool would look to simplify the privacy and security of both government and personal data.

If the request does not come from within a certain area, say, UCCS, the program would be able to identify a hacker and possibly lock the system or even destroy the data.

That way, according to Chow, the network can ensure the request is from who they say they are, and from where they say they are. “How do we know the person is actually in UCCS?” Chow asked.

Huynh got his master’s degree in computer science from UCCS and now has Chow as his adviser for his Ph.D. work. He has worked on the project well before the grant, starting in spring 2014 when he worked on a mechanism to self-destruct or hide the data. “This project will contribute to students in the future,” he said.

He will submit his research from the project to the Association for Computing at their annual conference for Ph.D. students.

The team will partner with experts at Northrop Grumman to share information and resources and will have a scheduled meeting every two weeks to see the progress of the project.

Chow highlighted the relationship that is created through this kind of partnership. Contacts with large, local companies are created, faculty can work with Northrop Grumman and the same cooperation template created now can be used for future projects.

“Academically, we look at the big idea, but we need to know how practical is that,” Chow said.“It’s very rare to get this kind of new problem, to get it from the real world.”

Students in this kind of setting can help a company solve their problems and the students can receive funding for their support. Internships, such as the one Wang will fill for Northrop Grumman next summer, can follow the mentorship during the project.

“If they fit, they get a job,” said Chow.

The team will be invited to present at the Northrop Grumman internal exhibit showcase in July. Huynh hopes to see the value of the work translate to the work world. He believes his particular job market will be based on information insurance.

“It’s very important to me,” said Huynh. “Companies will be concerned about network security, and how they make that more effective.”

Chow explained he would like to see the team create some aspect of software to help protect data.

“That would be the most rewarding thing, and would be a big advancement in terms of cyber security.”