Professor Lewko Wins NSF Grant to Establish New Center for Encrypted Functionalities (Columbia Engineering)


—Photo by Ryan John Lee

Allison Lewko, assistant professor of computer science, and a team of colleagues from the University of California at Los Angeles, Stanford University, Columbia University, The University of Texas at Austin, and Johns Hopkins University have won a significant Frontier grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to establish the Center for Encrypted Functionalities (CEF).

Under the terms, Columbia Engineering will receive $1 million of the $5 million grant, part of the NSF’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace program to support large, multi-institution projects that address grand challenges in cybersecurity science and engineering with the potential for broad economic and scientific impact.

“Our goal for CEF is to use new encryption methods to make the inner workings of a computer program invisible to an outside observer, while preserving its functionality, through a process we call program obfuscation,” says Lewko, who is also a member of the Data Science Institute’s Cybersecurity Center. “We want to enhance cybersecurity by hiding vulnerabilities from potential adversaries, thereby preventing reverse engineering. This will allow us, for example, to hide cryptographic keys within software, thereby enabling encryption to be secure when software is distributed.”

In 2013, Lewko was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the Science & Healthcare category for her work on designing encryption algorithms and keeping data secure. She is leading a team of researchers at the Engineering School that will focus on simultaneously improving security and efficiency of state of the art obfuscation algorithms.

—by Holly Evarts

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