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UTSA Professor Receives NSF Grant to Secure Wearable Tech and IoT Systems

Assistant Professor Dr. Murtuza Jadliwala of the Computer Science (CS) Department has been awarded the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development or CAREER grant. This most prestigious $499,512, 5-year award for early career faculty funds Jadliwala's research on securing modern ubiquitous sensing and computing technologies, such as mobile, wearable and Internet-of-Things (IoT) systems, against private data inference and exfiltration threats. Jadliwala is the director of the SPriTE (Security, Privacy, Trust and Ethics in Computing) Research Lab in the Department of Computer Science at UTSA.

"Dr. Jadliwala is one of our rising stars and our ninth home-grown NSF CAREER awardee, a remarkable achievement for a CS department with only about 20 tenure-track/tenured faculty. I also credit the excellent tradition of mentorship and nurturing for early career faculty within this department," says Dr. Sushil Prasad, Computer Science department chair.

My project is motivated by the fact that we as humans are living in a society where we are constantly surrounded by sensors, which are continuously sensing every smallest activity/event in our lives. We have sensors in our pockets in the form of smartphones, sensors on our bodies in the form of smartwatches and sensors in our immediate surroundings in the form of smart home devices and appliances. There is no doubt that these devices have improved our lives significantly by enabling useful applications, but at what cost-"

Dr. Murtuza Jadliwala, Assistant Professor, Computer Science (CS) Department, UTSA

Jadliwala explains that sensor data collected by (or originating from) modern ubiquitous sensing and computing systems, such as smartphones, wearables and IoT devices, can be easily exploited to significantly compromise users' privacy unless the current weaknesses are addressed. Although individually some of these devices and applications (running on them) may provide limited means for privacy protection, they do not holistically work across all the different types of devices, sensors, and applications surrounding users. "The main challenge is that most of these device and sensor platforms are pretty heterogenous in nature, produced by different manufacturers, running different operating systems or operated by different providers," says Jadliwala. "As a result, these different systems don't talk to each other when it comes to holistically protecting users' privacy. For instance, a protection mechanism on your smartphone that restricts when an application accesses your phone's camera might not help protect against a snooping surveillance camera in your house."

To overcome these challenges, Jadliwala and his research team will focus on uncovering new security and privacy risks in modern ubiquitous sensing and computing environments comprising of functionally heterogeneous and isolated sensors, devices and applications. The team will also design and evaluate a promising new approach to protect against uncoordinated and unregulated sensing and actuation in such environments. This approach will efficiently and securely determine sensitive user-contexts and share it in a user-friendly fashion across a diverse set of sensing devices and applications to provide complete or holistic privacy protection.

Using his research findings, Jadliwala will develop a curriculum in mobile and IoT security that local high school teachers can implement in their classrooms. "After talking to educators in the San Antonio Independent School District, I was excited to learn that cybersecurity courses are already being offered in some of the high schools in our community," he explains. "However, the problem is that the high school teachers are not always exposed, or get an opportunity to expose themselves to the recent advancements in the field. One of the goals of the project will be to train the teachers themselves by involving them in our research. This is a classic example of how research and education can come together. The teachers can then take those research experiences and design effective curriculum for their own students."

Local high school students will also have an opportunity to participate in cybersecurity summer camps, which Jadliwala is currently planning. "For enrollment at these camps, we will specifically target students from San Antonio area's underrepresented and impoverished communities, who ideally would not be able to afford attending expensive educational camps in the summer," says Jadliwala. The team will also offer a summer camp for veterans who are interested in a career in cybersecurity.

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