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PUBLIC RELEASE DATE:
31-Mar-2014

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Contact: Holly Evarts
holly.evarts@columbia.edu
346-453-7408
Columbia University School of Engineering and Applied Science

Computer science professor Roxana Geambasu wins NSF CAREER Award

Grant to support new developments in improving data protection and privacy

Roxana Geambasu, assistant professor of computer science, has won a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for her proposal to create new data protection abstractions for modern operating systems. The five-year, $499,000 grant, the most prestigious NSF award to recognize outstanding junior faculty, will help fund her project, "New Abstractions for Responsible Sensitive Data Management in Modern Operating Systems."

"This is a great honor," says Geambasu, who is one of three faculty members directing the Software Systems Lab and a member of the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering's Cybersecurity Center. "We are looking at creating new, convenient protection mechanisms that will promote a responsible approach to data management, in which users can manage their data carefully and minimize their exposure to attacks."

Her research is focused on ensuring data security and privacy in an era of cloud computing and ubiquitous mobile devices. She notes that these technologies, which billions of users rely upon to access and host sensitive data—such as emails, documents, and financial information, have become easy targets for theft, espionage, hacking, and legal attacks. "And, despite the threats, " she observes, "today's data management practices are looser and more irresponsible than ever."

These days, she points out, the mobile devices we carry with us everywhere are packed with confidential information under operating systems that never securely erase data. At the other end, cloud services not only accumulate endless logs of user activity, such as searches, site visits, and locations, but also keep them for extended periods of time, mine them for business value, and at times share them with others – all without the user's knowledge or control.

"This has become an untenable situation," Geambasu says. So she is working to identify the security risks inherent in current mobile and web technology and designs, and constructing systems to address those problems. Her NSF CAREER-funded proposal is focused on looking at data storage in modern operating systems, including Android and iOS, and developing fine-grained data protection.

"Ensuring mobile and cloud data security demands new mechanisms and abstractions to facilitate programmers' work; ensuring privacy demands new levels of transparency that empower users to protect themselves," Geambasu says. "My research addresses these challenging problems and anticipates those to come with the archiving of vast quantities of sensitive data."

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