Computer Science Professor Receives NSF Grant for Confidential Computing Solutions

dr Keke ChenNorthwestern Mutual Data Science Institute Associate Professor of Computer Science at Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, received a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study confidential computing solutions through scientific collaboration.

Chen’s research project, Confidential Computing in Reproducible Collaborative Workflows, was approved by NSF’s Cybersecurity Innovation for Cyberinfrastructure program. NSF CICI supports research into securing scientific data, workflows and infrastructure in three focus areas: usable and collaborative security for science; scientific safety data sets for reference; and detection of vulnerabilities in scientific infrastructure.

“Data-intensive scientific research projects often involve multiple collaborative parties, each of which may request confidential processing of their sensitive assets to protect intellectual property or an embargo on data or algorithm sharing before an article is published,” Chen said. “Integrating confidential computing into reproducible scientific workflows poses significant but under-researched challenges. This project aims to identify these unique challenges and explore new solutions.”

This study focuses on the efficient hardware-based confidential computing approach Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) for scientific data analysis applications. Researchers will look at the solutions for a scientist-driven TEE development with tradeoffs between usability and security guarantees. You will also study unique attacks resulting from the interplay between sensitive components and a reproducible workflow to develop mitigation methods based on the attack study to ensure workflow reproducibility and security.

“This is a remarkable research opportunity for Dr. Chen to encourage collaboration and innovation,” said Dr. Heidi Bostic, Dean of the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences. “DR. Chen and his research team seek to address the confidentiality and privacy concerns that can stand in the way of open collaboration and collaborative science. Their research can also be extended to other sensitive computing scenarios on potentially untrustworthy platforms, including cloud-based applications, that we use every day. His work is a great example of Marquette’s outstanding strengths in computer science and data science.”

Chen’s team includes co-investigators Dr. Zeno Franco, associate professor of family and community medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, and Dr. Zeyun Yu, Professor of Computer Science and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. dr Ning Jenny Jiang, J. Peter and Geri Skirkanich Associate Professor of Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania, serves as an independent advisor.

The broader impact will be felt in all areas by improving the curriculum of the cybersecurity program in Marquette; Creating new course materials for Marquette’s Data Science program and the Bioinformatics program at UWM; contribution to computer science education at local high schools; attract underrepresented undergraduate and undergraduate students to cybersecurity and data science research through Marquette’s programs; and strengthening the university’s collaboration with industrial partners.

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