Professor Wins Google Backing for App Project

Dr. Lingming Zhang

Dr. Lingming Zhang

A UT Dallas scientist is one of eight researchers worldwide to be awarded a grant from Google to pursue software engineering and programming languages research. 

Dr. Lingming Zhang, assistant professor of computer science in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, received a one-year Google Faculty Research Award of $46,500 for his work in app security analysis. The award will allow Zhang to study the summary analysis of the Android framework libraries, with the goal of eventually speeding up the analysis of such Android apps using those libraries. 

“I am very pleased to receive this award. It not only brings us funding but also brings us the connection and collaboration with Google teams to work on real-world problems,” said Zhang, the only researcher in North Texas to receive a grant. 

Mobile devices are filled with confidential user information. Unknown to most users, some mobile apps leak that private information — either intentionally through malicious apps or unintentionally through carelessly designed apps. Either way the results can be disastrous, according to Zhang. 

“People can end up losing passwords, bank account information and other personal information such as contacts and SMS messages. These are things that, in the wrong hands, can cause consumers serious problems,” he said. 

Many researchers have proposed various static analysis techniques to detect information leaks from Android apps, but Zhang — whose research interests focus on software engineering — said that using such techniques to highlight possible vulnerabilities can be extremely time-consuming. He plans to research an alternative technique called “conditional reachability analysis,” which speeds up the taint analysis of any Android app. 

Zhang’s overall research focuses on applying in tandem software testing and program analysis techniques to test, validate and verify program functional correctness and nonfunctional requirements. His lab also is interested in applying techniques from other areas such as machine learning, natural language processing and data mining to solve software engineering problems. 

Google’s Faculty Research Awards Program aims to identify and support world-class, permanent faculty pursuing cutting-edge research in areas of mutual interest. After its winter 2015 call for research project proposals, Google funded 151 out of 950 proposals in 18 categories. 

“I am looking forward to working closely with Google, researching interesting, real-world problems,” Zhang said. “I think this also will be a great opportunity for the students in my lab. They will work closely with Google teams and hopefully there will be opportunities to intern or even work at Google.”

Computer Scientists Receive Award from Pilot Program

Google offers a number of programs that encourage engagement with university faculty. In addition to the one-year faculty research awards, Google also funds multi-year research projects and offers a visiting faculty program.

Dr. Alvaro Cárdenas, assistant professor of computer science and member of the UT Dallas Cyber Security Research and Education Institute, Dr. Ryan McMahan, assistant professor in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science and the School of Arts and Technology, and Junia Valente, a PhD candidate in software engineering, recently received an Internet of Things (IoT) Technology Research Award from a new Google research pilot program. 

The program provides selected researchers in-kind gifts of Google IoT related technologies, with the goal of fostering collaboration with the academic community on small-scale experiments, discovering what researchers can do with Google software and devices. 

With a gift of software and hardware from Google, Cárdenas and Valente will be researching a new mechanism to detect tampering on footage that is captured by surveillance cameras. McMahan will be developing and testing a mobile application that delivers just-in-time interaction with "smart-things."

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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