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May 30, 2024

WPI researcher receives $594K NSF grant to study computer security

Students walk through a quad on a college campus with academic buildings behind them Photo | Courtesy of Worcester Polytechnic Institute The campus of Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s efforts to study ways to fight back against malicious attacks against computer chips and other hardware has received a $594,081 boost from the National Science Foundation.

This funding will allow WPI researcher and assistant professor Shahin Tajik to embark on a five-year project to investigate technologies that could prevent hardware attacks, according to a press release issued by the university on Thursday. As part of this initiative, Tajik will develop a new graduate course on physical security of microelectronic systems and recruit undergraduates to assist with the research. 

“Research into hardware security is fascinating work, like solving a puzzle and then confronting an even harder puzzle that a hacker has created,” Tajik said in the press release. “It’s also important work. The physical layer of computers has been overlooked in security research for a long time, so we have a great opportunity to explore and seek solutions that can address a real need.”

Computer hardware is vulnerable to tampering as it moves through scattered and multilayered supply chains around the world. This research will focus on preventing tampering with computer chips and other types of physical hardware, which can result in the extraction of confidential information from chips or disruptions of hardware functionality. 

NSF awarded these funds as part of its Faculty Early Career Development Program, which seeks to support faculty who are in the early stages of their careers and have the potential to serve as academic role models, according to the NSF’s website. 

Tajik is the latest WPI faculty member to benefit from NSF funding; in May, another WPI faculty member received $1.2 million from NSF to study ways to use bacteria to clean up contaminated soil. 

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