Hu secures NSF Career Award for wireless network security research
CSL researcher Yih-Chun Hu enjoys breaking things so he can fix them. That is, Hu, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is interested in developing a bottom-up mechanism to secure wireless networks against “layer-violating” attacks.
To approach the problem, he said he first develops an attack on one wireless network layer that will compromise, or “break,” a security guarantee at a different layer. Then, he develops bottom-up mechanisms that prevent his attack from being executed for actual malicious purposes in the future.
“I like the challenge of building system attacks or finding new avenues for making an attack and then trying to close it off from future attackers,” Hu said.
Hu’s novel ideas for approaching the problem have earned him a National Science Foundation CAREER Award, totaling $475,920 and spanning five years. CAREER Awards are given to new professors with innovative research ideas.
Hu explained that wireless networks consist of five interlocked layers: physical, medium-access, network, transport and application. Each layer is designed separately from the other layers, and its design makes assumptions about the security of the other layers.
“When networks were originally designed, there weren’t many security measures. There was no uniform definition of what it means for a specific layer to be secure,” Hu said. “The idea is if I have a secure protocol at a higher layer and am relying on some unknown property of lower layers, any attack of a lower layer that breaks my assumptions could also break higher levels of protocol.”
With the award funds, Hu aims to secure layers individually, from the bottom up, while defining contracts between layers so he can build security in a uniform way, preventing incorrect security assumptions. In addition, he hopes to define the specific properties that each layer needs to exhibit and deliver to its higher layer.
“I think that in the end, networks secured in this manner will reduce the attacks available to wireless networks,” Hu said.
Hu is honored and excited that he was chosen for a CAREER Award.
“This feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity because of the potential societal impact,” Hu said. “So many people have done research making low-cost wireless technology available and safe, and I am happy to be a part of it.”