Best Student Hardware Hackers and ID Protectors Win Trips to Compete in NYU-Poly Cyber Security Awareness Week

Embedded Systems Challenge Helps Transform Real-World Chip Supply Chain Protocols

Students presenting their hardware

Student finalists have been announced in a contest involving one of the fastest-growing cyber security frontiers: hardware supply chain safety. A record 37 international teams of students accepted the annual challenge issued by students of Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) to compete in the 2011 Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW) Embedded Systems Challenge. Top-scoring teams came from universities across the United States and Europe.

“Securing hardware can be particularly challenging – malicious hardware is often hard to detect, the supply chain for chips begins overseas and is frequently porous, and security researchers face a dearth of material because hacked companies are reluctant to share infected hardware for reasons of intellectual property,” said Ramesh Karri, NYU-Poly professor of electrical and computer engineering and mentor to the students leading the Embedded Systems Challenge. 

Trojan horses (named after the Greek myth because they appear to be innocent) developed by students in prior CSAW competitions allowed Karri, Embedded Systems Challenge leader and NYU-Poly doctoral candidate Jeyavijayan Rajendran and other researchers to begin crafting benchmarks to shape industry standards for secure chip manufacturing.  Last year, CSAW competitors developed more than 250 Trojans in the course of the challenge.

This year, the Embedded Systems Challenge expanded to include two separate categories. “We created two challenges because the problems in each are so important and pressing – and because of overwhelming support from universities, security agencies and companies,” Rajendran said. 

These professionals comprise an important element of the annual challenges at NYU-Poly: One of the main goals of CSAW, now in its eighth year, is to encourage students to build relationships with security professionals and other cybersecurity students. 

In the initial round of the Embedded Systems Challenge, student teams presented papers describing their hacking, detection and protection strategies. Each of the top U.S. teams wins travel expenses for one of its members to attend the finals on NYU-Poly’s Brooklyn campus November 10-11. The lead sponsor of this challenge is the U.S. Air Force Research Labs. Additional sponsors include the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation and Intel Corporation.

In the Malicious Processor Design Challenge, teams insert malicious components into a processor so that the processor’s software executes attacks. The challenge thereby reveals a laptop’s vulnerabilities. The top-scoring teams:

  1. Team RPISEC - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: Shawn Denbow, Andrew Zonenberg, Wilson Wong, Jeremy Pope, Jared Candelaria, Billy Sission and Mark Buckler; 

  2. Team Vanderbilt - Vanderbilt University: Trey Reece, Daniel Limbrick, Brad Kiddie and Xiaowen Wang;

  3. Team Nanoscape - Case Western Reserve University: Xinmu Wang, Seetharam Narasimhan and Aswin Krishna;

  4. Team UCONN CADT - University of Connecticut: Xuehui Zhang, Andrew Ferraiuolo and Nicholas Tuzzio; 

  5. Team Grenoble-INP Esisar - Grenoble-INP Esisar, France: Yves Clauzel, Jeremy Dubeuf, Maurin Augagneu and David Hely; 

  6. Iowa State University: Michael Patterson, Aaron Mills, Sudhanshu Vyas and Christopher Sabotta; 

  7. Team TRELA IV - University of Texas at Dallas: Yier Jin and Michail Maniatakos;

  8. Team GLaDOS - Polytechnic Institute of New York University: Srinivas Pola, Lawrence Ng, Pramod Pabbati and Ramesh Patel;

  9. University of California, Irvine: Mehryar Rahmatian and Hessam Kooti.

In the Physical Unclonable Functions (PUF) Design Challenge, students attempt to develop unique, secure and low-cost identifications for each hardware unit – important for credit cards, smart IDs and other applications. The top teams:

  1. Team Vanderbilt;

  2. Team Nanoscape;

  3. Team UCONN CADT;

  4. Team Grenoble-INP Esisar;

  5. Iowa State University: Michael Patterson, Aaron Mills, Sudhanshu Vyas and Christopher Sabotta;

  6. Team CMU_PUF - Carnegie Mellon University: Mudit Bhargava, Craig Teegarden and Cagla Cakir;

  7. Team Secure, Lightweight and Robust PUF (SLARP) – University of Massachusetts Amherst: Raghavan Kumar, Sudheendra Srivaths and Lang Lin;

  8. Team TUD_CASED - Technische Universität Darmstadt: Unal Kocabas, Cahit Ugur and Michael Zohner.

The final round will challenge students in both ID protection and hardware hacking, using FPGA development boards that sponsor Xilinx gives to each finalist team.

In addition to cash prizes for the winners of the finals competition, NYU-Poly this year increased its master’s of science scholarship offer to $5,000 for each U.S. finalist who attends NYU-Poly.

The NYU-Poly CSAW challenges are among the oldest and broadest student-led competitions, and are designed to encourage awareness of the increasing threats to privacy and security issues for individuals, governments, business and smart infrastructure. The challenges and the finals week encourage students to pursue studies in the field and to build networks to help them keep abreast of the fast-changing knowledge base.

Among the challenges still accepting registrations are the game show-like Quiz Tournament held during the finals; a Security Awareness Video Challenge, and the new Kaspersky’s American Cup at NYU-Poly CSAW. Kaspersky Lab expands its acclaimed international research conference, “IT Security for the Next Generation,” to university students in the United States in partnership with NYU-Poly’s CSAW.  To participate, potential attendees must submit research on the topic of “Cyber Security” by October 10, 2011. Selected authors will be invited to attend the conference and are automatically entered in the challenge and asked to present their papers. 

NYU-Poly was one of the earliest schools to introduce a cyber security program, receiving National Security Agency (NSA) approval nearly a decade ago. Designated as both a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education and a Center of Academic Excellence in Research by the NSA, the school houses a National Science Foundation-funded Information Systems and Internet Security (ISIS) Laboratory, the nerve center of cyber security research.

About Polytechnic Institute of New York University

Polytechnic Institute of New York University (formerly Polytechnic University), an affiliate of New York University, is a comprehensive school of engineering, applied sciences, technology and research, and is rooted in a 157-year tradition of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship: i2e. The institution, founded in 1854, is the nation’s second-oldest private engineering school. In addition to its main campus in New York City at MetroTech Center in downtown Brooklyn, it also offers programs at sites throughout the region and around the globe. Globally, NYU-Poly has programs in Israel, China and is an integral part of NYU's campus in Abu Dhabi.