Thursday,
July 28, 2016

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Computer Scientist Gets CAREER Boost for Cybersecurity Project

Researcher Receives $500,000 in Funding for Creating Stronger Protection for Cyber-Physical Systems

Dr. Alvaro Cardenas

Dr. Alvaro Cárdenas

Dr. Alvaro Cárdenas, assistant professor of computer science in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, has received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award for his research on cyber-physical systems. 

The award provides him with more than $500,000 in funding over five years. 

A cyber-physical system, or CPS, is a system in which computers control physical processes, like modern vehicles, the power grid and smart thermostats. 

“Alvaro’s research is very important to our institute. Not only is he designing algorithms based on fundamental principles, they will also be applicable to a number of applications including in smart grids, smart meters, power systems and automobile systems. In addition, Alvaro’s project has given our cybersecurity team 100 percent success for NSF CAREER awards among the junior faculty we have hired into the institute,” said Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, executive director of the UT Dallas Cyber Security Research and Education Institute and the Louis A. Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Professor in the Jonsson School. 

The first part of Cárdenas’ research project focuses on security and protection of cyber-physical critical infrastructures such as a power grid, water distribution networks and transportation networks. He plans to investigate how monitoring the physical system can indicate a cyberattack. 

“An attack on a cyber-physical system will have an observable effect on the physical world. So monitoring the physical system to identify anomalous behaviors and potential dangerous situations as soon as the attack begins can help mitigate the negative consequences of these actions,” he said. 

Alvaro’s research is very important to our institute. Not only is he designing algorithms based on fundamental principles, they will also be applicable to a number of applications including in smart grids, smart meters, power systems and automobile systems. 

Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham,
executive director of the UT Dallas Cyber Security Research and Education Institute

The second part of Cárdenas’ project focuses on privacy issues related to CPS and proposes ways to minimize the dangers of the unprecedented levels of data collection of CPS devices. For example, smart thermostats collect a variety of information about users: when residents are in and out of the house, temperature levels and estimates of electricity consumption. 

“The smart thermostat collects information for a reason, like allowing the home resident to lower her energy consumption. But I want to help this growing industry with guidelines on how to allow them to achieve their goal with the data, while at the same time minimizing this collection of data to only what is necessary,” he said. 

To better design future CPS security and privacy mechanisms, Cárdenas intends to bring two research communities closer together and unite their insights. 

“In the last decade, the control theory community has proposed fundamental advances in CPS security. In parallel, the computer security community has also achieved significant advances in CPS security and privacy,” he said. “However, there is still a large language and conceptual barrier between the two fields, and, as a result, computer security experts have developed a parallel and independent research agenda from control theory researchers.” 

Cárdenas said the CAREER award also will help him to work with graduate, undergraduate and high school students in his lab — the Cyber-Physical Systems Security and PrivaCy (CPS-SPC) Lab.  

This is the third award from the NSF that Cárdenas has received at UT Dallas. Last year, with Dr. Jennifer Holmes, professor and program head of political science, public policy and political economy, he received an award to study Colombia’s response to five decades of attacks on its infrastructure due to conflicts between the government, paramilitary groups and guerilla groups. 

Cárdenas holds master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s from Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. Before joining UT Dallas, he was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, and a research staff member at Fujitsu Laboratories of America in Sunnyvale, California. 

Media Contact: Chaz Lilly, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4461, charles.lilly@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu.


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