Computer Scientist Oliveira Receives NSF CAREER Award for Virtual Machine Research

Story posted April 24, 2012

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Daniela Oliveira

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Daniela Oliveira has received the National Science Foundation's CAREER Award, a five-year, $404,000 grant that will support innovative research into operating systems' defense against attacks using virtual machines with help from undergraduate students.

"This grant will allow the realization of the dream I had since I arrived in Bowdoin in the fall of 2010 — engaging liberal arts students in cutting-edge research in a Cyber Security lab," says Oliveira.

"I envision these students doing great things and making an impact in the computer security research community. I see this grant as a way to enable them to achieve that by allowing them to be involved in exciting research projects and using funding to give them the opportunity to meet and interact with important people in the field through conferences or lectures on campus."

A virtual machine, commonly referred to as a VM, is a high-level software designed to emulate a computer's hardware. It tricks a computer's operating system, such as Windows or Mac or Linux, into believing the VM is the central processing unit, physical memory, hard disk and network.

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(L. to r.) Philip Koch '15, Ruben Martinez '15, Ivy Xing '15, Daniela Oliveira and Jesus Navarro '13.

"In the last ten years VMs have been extensively used for security-related applications, such as intrusion detection systems, malicious software (malware) analyzers and secure logging and replay of system execution," Oliveira says. "It also allows users to protect operating systems from attacks by isolating the breached operating system from other operating systems running on the same computer."

The NSF describes its Faculty Early Career Development Program as one that offers the NSF's "most prestigious awards in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations."

The NSF says the program aims to help build a firm foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

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The April 6 talk, “Don’t Trust a Network that Doesn’t Trust You,” delivered on campus by Jed Crandall, Assistant Professor and Qforma Lecturer at the University of New Mexico, was sponsored by the NSF grant.

Oliveira says her project will lead to a platform for doing introspection and providing virtualization-based security solutions that are not possible with today's state-of-the-art due to the semantic gap cost. This will open up possibilities for malware analysis and defense that are not currently possible. The proposed architecture can be generalized involving the application layer (e.g., browsers), thus allowing for more secure services to be provided.

"This project will create a Cyber Security lab at Bowdoin (Fall 2012) with students directly involved in this research," Oliveira says. "It also provides funds for introducing computer security during the Bowdoin Science Experience, taking students to Cyber security competitions and conferences, and bringing speakers to the campus."

The grant began funding research by Jesus Navarro '13 and Philip Koch '15 during the spring semester. Ivy Xing '15 and Ruben Martinez '15 are to join the group this summer. Martinez will work with Navarro and Koch on operating system protection, while Xing works on inferring trust from online social networks.

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