The FICS Research Institute covers all areas of information and hardware security, from investigating security of nanotechnology devices, to integrated circuits and systems security, to theoretical algorithms,to internet-of-things, and to larger cyber physical systems. Below is a list of some of our focus areas.

  1. Applied Cryptography and Privacy
  2. Cloud and Distributed Systems Security
  3. Internet and Mobile Security
  4. Cyber Physical Systems Security
  5. Systems and Storage Security
  6. Usable Security
  7. Internet-of-Things (IOT) Security
  8. Nano-scale Security
  9. Electronics and Non-electronics Supply Chain Security
  10. System-on-Chip (SoC) Security and Trust
  11. Biometrics and Security
  12. Verification of IP Security and Trust

Systems and Storage Security

FAROS: Beyond All-or-Nothing DIFT via Context-Aware Self-Tuning Operation

FAROSWe are building FAROS, a next-generation DIFT (dynamic information flow tracking) system to increase system transparency to counter advanced persistent threats (APTs). FAROS consists of an xDIFT module inside a virtual machine (VM) and a self-tuning module. The self-tuning module advises xDIFT about the recommended level of tracking based on situational-awareness, which captures the likelihood that the device is in danger. The novelty of our work is two-fold. First, FAROS is effective because it uses context-aware tracking and handles indirect flows (address and control) properly. Second, FAROS is efficient because it employs an on-the-fly self-tuning operation, which uses situational-awareness to adjust the level of detail of the tracked information, thus reducing its performance overhead. Situational-awareness provides an estimate on whether the device is in danger or already compromised by malware.


Chameleon: A Spectrum-Behavior Operating System

ChameleonThe objective of this project is to explore new capabilities for active defense in computer systems, an “elusive holy grail” of cyber security. The novel approach of the work is to make consistent and inconsistent deception a first-class operating system design feature, which, if successful, can strike a new and appealing balance of security, performance, and usability. Specifically, we plan to (i) Implement an Linux-based operating system, Chameleon, providing a spectrum of defenses based on deception and inconsistent behavior, (ii) Analyze the effectiveness of the prototype to resist malware while maintaining usability for benign and trusted software. We will evaluate usability through user studies designed and supervised by an experimental cognitive psychologist.

Usable Security

Capturing, Understanding and Addressing Developer’s Security-related API Blind Spots

API-blind-spotsThis research identifies common developer blind spots with the goal of building and evaluating practical software tools that help prevent blind spots during development and detect vulnerabilities in deployed software.

Understanding the Effectiveness of Psychological Weapons of Influence in Spear Phishing Attacks

phishing-attacksDoes effectiveness and types of web-based social engineering attacks vary by age group? Does effectiveness of psychological weapons of automatic influence vary by age group?

Internet-of-Things (IOT) Security

Internet of ThingsAccording to Cisco, there will be more than 50 billion devices connected to network by 2020. The security and trustworthiness of these devices are of major concerns. FICS researchers play a leading role in Internet of Things (IoT) security and privacy. As part of our ongoing research, we develop comprehensive security evaluation framework dedicated for IoT and wearable devices. Systematic solutions are also developed to enhance modern cyber-physical systems. We also constantly hack into these devices and try to expose their vulnerabilities. These effort pave the way to establish more effective defense mechanisms for IOT and CPS devices.

System-on-Chip (SoC) Security and Trust

SoC-security-researchAs System-on-Chip (SoC) designs proliferate in diverse critical computing systems including emerging internet-of-things (IoT) applications, they need to include a wide variety of highly sensitive secure assets and protect them. These on-chip assets include cryptographic and Digital Right Management (DRM) keys, firmware, fuses, premium content, and even the designs of valuable hardware intellectual properties (IPs) composing the design. Consequently, a significant component of modern SoC design involves developing techniques to explore, analyze, and develop resiliency mechanisms against attacks or vulnerabilities to security assets. SoC security attacks arise from a large number of sources, including untrusted third-party IPs in the hardware itself, malicious or vulnerable firmware and software, attacks on communication of the system with other devices, hardware Trojan attacks in different components of SoC, and even side-channel vulnerabilities through power and performance profiles. Countermeasures for security attacks are equally varied and diverse, and include their own architecture, design, implementation, and validation components. Indeed, security activities encompass the entire SoC life cycle, from architecture definition to post-silicon validation and even on-field patches. There is a critical need to develop innovative security architectures that are resilient to diverse attacks; design-for-security (DfS) solutions that can provide effective protection against specific attacks; as well as pre- and post-silicon security validation techniques to address the security issues. Researchers in FICS are actively exploring cross-layer comprehensive solutions for secure and trusted SoC operation with collaboration with industry. Of particular emphasis are the following topics: (1) Developing infrastructure IP for SoC security; (2) Security rule check at IP and SoC level; and (3) Trusted SoC design with untrusted components.

Biometrics and Security


Existing user authentication approaches are becoming outmoded and inadequate. The vast number of digital services in use today demand unattainable requirements. Each password should be different and strong, making them increasingly difficult for users to not only keep track of, but also remember. While such requirements can be ignored, it is becoming more dangerous to do so, especially with the recent hacks and other breaches in the news. Two-factor authentication, where an additional hardware token is used, provides additional security but is clumsy and inconvenient which defeats the purpose of using digital services in the first place.

Biometric authentication provides a promising alternative. Biometrics are unique physical traits (fingerprint, iris, gait, DNA, etc.) that can be presented to an electronic system as a means of confirming a user’s identity. Compared to other authentication approaches, biometrics are more conclusive and cannot be guessed or stolen as easily. Aside from security, biometrics that are non-invasive and easy to capture, such as the face, provide the ease and convenience users crave in their digital lives. All that said, there are various challenges that FICS is investigating to bring biometrics into practical use. These include: (i) Privacy preserving biometric enrollment, sensing, and storage to protect against template theft; (ii) The ability to cancel or revoke biometrics in case of data leakage; (iii) Improved and low-cost pre-processing, feature extraction, quantization, etc. methods to improve the reliability of biometrics authentication in the presence of noise; (iv) Attack modeling that determines the most suitable applications (IoT, medical, electronic voting, retail , etc.) for each biometric type; and more.

Verification of IP Security and Trust


Reusable hardware Intellectual Property (IP) based System-on-Chip (SoC) design has emerged as a pervasive design practice in the industry to dramatically reduce overall design effort while meeting aggressive time-to-market constraints. Growing reliance on these pre-verified hardware IPs, often gathered from untrusted third-party vendors, severely affects the security and trustworthiness of SoC based computing platforms. An important emerging concern with the hardware IPs acquired from external sources is that they may come with deliberate malicious implants to incorporate undesired functionality, undocumented test/debug interface working as hidden backdoor, or other integrity issues. There is a critical need to verify integrity and trustworthiness of a wide variety of hardware IPs. Researchers in FICS are exploring a comprehensive framework for IP security and trust verification through integration of threat models, trust analysis, and trust validation using a combination of simulation-based techniques and formal methods.