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Student Cybersecurity Researchers from NYU-Poly and NYU Abu Dhabi Take Honors at Computer Conferences

Brooklyn, NY—A team of students from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, along with their faculty research partners from NYU-Poly and NYU Abu Dhabi, was awarded the Best Student Paper at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS) from among 530 submissions. The paper’s lead author was subsequently awarded the Bronze Medal in a second prestigious challenge, the ACM Student Research Competition for Design Automation.

The team, comprised of lead author and doctoral candidate Jeyavijayan (JV) Rajendran and undergraduate student Michael Sam, along with NYU-Poly Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Ramesh Karri and NYU Abu Dhabi Assistant Professor of Computer Engineering Ozgur Sinanoglu, was recognized for its paper, "Security Analysis of Integrated Circuit Camouflaging.” The researchers’ goal was to determine the resiliency of camouflaged integrated circuits against cyber attackers. Without camouflaging, chips are prone to reverse engineering—a process that allows attackers to pirate designs and costs the semiconductor industry billions in lost revenue each year. The researchers are members of the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Security and Privacy (CRISSP-NY and CRISSP-AD).

Camouflaging involves modifying existing gates to hamper an attacker’s efforts to determine the functionality of each gate. The team launched a rigorous evaluation to find the most effective gates to camouflage, and formulated solutions to improve circuit security.

They discovered that a judicious selection of gates for camouflaging played a critical role in the ability of circuit designers to harden their devices against reverse engineering. Rather than camouflaging all gates, which involves considerable cost and results in power and delay overhead, the researchers devised original techniques that allow for a highly resilient camouflaging of only selected gates. Their solutions would force an attacker to resort to a time-consuming process of trial and error to uncover the functionality of the gate.

NYU-Poly President and Dean of NYU Engineering Katepalli R. Sreenivasan congratulated the team. “This research advances a key area of information security—how to improve the trustworthiness of computer hardware,” he said. “This kind of work has wide-ranging, real-world impact, as there is no industry that is impervious to hardware threats. We’re proud to see students and faculty from Brooklyn collaborating with our NYU partners from around the world to devise solutions for global challenges.”

To the researchers’ knowledge, they are the first academic team to devise an algorithm for determining which gates to camouflage. They report few, if any, barriers to semiconductor foundries that would want to incorporate their algorithm into the design of integrated circuits. 

ACM reported record participation in this year’s CCS conference, which took place in Berlin. Conference General Chair Professor Dr.-Ing. Ahmad-Reza Sadeghi, who is also the director of the Systems Security Lab in the Department of Computer Science at Technische Universität Darmstadt, commented that “one of the main focuses of the conference was data protection from eavesdropping—an issue of worldwide interest.” He noted that for many papers, “hardware security was a key area— most of the best papers involved Trojan detection, and all were highly sophisticated.”

The ACM Student Research Competition is a joint venture between the Association for Computing Machinery and Microsoft Research. The competition, now in its 10th year, provides opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to present original research at ACM conferences throughout the year. Rajendran was one of only six graduate students selected to present his research in the final round. Last year he won the Bronze Medal in the ACM Student Research Competition. He previously won third place in IT Security in the Kaspersky American Cup; the Myron M. Rosenthal Award for Best MS Academic Achievement in the NYU-Poly Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; Service Recognition Award from Intel; and Best Student Paper Awards in the IEEE International symposium on Defect and Fault Tolerant VLSI Systems 2013 and IEEE International Conference on VLSI (Very Large Scale Integration) Design 2011, among other honors.