Ram Krishnan, assistant professor in the UTSA College of Engineering Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Ravi Sandhu, professor in the College of Science and director of the UTSA Institute for Cyber Security, have been awarded $500,000 from the National Science Foundation to improve the security of cloud-based infrastructures.
“Our research really complements what is already going on here at UTSA,” said Krishnan. “Receiving this NSF grant allows us to share the ground-breaking research taking place at UTSA with the nation and the globe.”
Krishnan’s expertise is in computer and network security, specifically in access control and security issues in cloud computing. A fundamental problem when organizations “move” to cloud is that they also need to move their “security” to the cloud as well. Krishnan says that the goal of the NSF project is to develop a security mechanism where each cloud customer can maintain a level of control over their virtual assets in the cloud that is comparable to the level of control that was possible to maintain in their own premises.
“Imagine a computer that you don’t physically own but that is virtually available somewhere else,” explained Krishnan. “You can only access the information on that computer though a network. For example, our UTSA email is hosted off-site on Microsoft servers. The information does not exist on each employee’s personal computers, the data is held on Microsoft’s cloud. That is the kind of system we are talking about.”
Krishnan explained that having a person or a company’s extremely sensitive resource data located thousands of miles away and accessible through a cloud network presents a problem when it comes to security and accessibility.
“For a service provider like Amazon or Google that is hosting the data of multiple companies, they have to have a system that determines who gets access to what information,” said Krishnan. “The service provider has to figure out how they determine and control the access that the users have. We want to figure out how to develop specialty access control so that a company can define the attributes of a user, which, in hand, determines that user’s access.”
Not only will the grant benefit UTSA in regards to research, but the educational potential of the grant will be a boon to the students as well, who will be able to get hands-on experience in state-of-the-art technologies, possibly in organized courses, dedicated to this topic in the near future.
“Today, if you are a graduate or an undergraduate student, it is so important to have some experience and knowledge of what cloud computing is, and how to use the technology,” said Krishnan. “The security aspects of cloud computing are especially a great topic to learn if you are an outgoing student, looking to work for one of these large service providers. Both the research and the educational aspects of this funded project are fantastic.”
The Institute for Cyber Security is one of UTSA’s dedicated centers focused on solving global security challenges in today’s increasingly technological world. In early 2014, UTSA’s cybersecurity program was ranked No. 1 in the nation by a national survey of technology security professionals conducted by the Ponemon Institute.
UTSA is also home to the Cloud and BigData Laboratory, a space devoted to the research of new technologies and innovations in various areas of computing and big data research and development. The laboratory, developed in large part through industry collaboration, is designed to help the international business community improve their computing platforms through open-source hardware and cloud and big data technologies, and train a pipeline of students for the workforce.