Computer science researcher wins NSF Career Award

Zhi Wang, assistant professor of computer science at Florida State

A Florida State University assistant professor has won a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER award to build more secure operating systems for computers and mobile devices.

Assistant Professor Zhi Wang, who came to Florida State in 2012, has been working on computer security for the past several years, particularly for operating systems.

“The operating system is the most important part on your computer,” he said. “If the operating system is compromised, then everything on your computer can be compromised.”

For computer scientists, security is a constantly changing game. The minute they find a new way to protect a computer system, someone else is trying to develop a way to break down that protection.

And in the developed world, computer security affects our daily lives. In the past few years, the hacking of corporation computer systems of major retailers made national headlines. Tens of millions of customer credit cards are exposed and can be purchased in the underground market.

“It’s basically an arms race,” Wang said.

Wang, who received his doctorate from North Carolina State University, is developing a number of techniques that enable the self-defense capability for the operating systems against malicious attacks.

“It’s like building an immune system, so it can defend itself,” he said.

The CAREER Award will go a long way in helping him build those new systems, Wang added.

The CAREER Award is an annual grant given by the National Science Foundation to support junior faculty members who have been identified as up-and-comers in both the teaching and research fields. It is one of the most prestigious awards given by the NSF to faculty members who have not yet achieved tenure status.

“Receiving such an award is a strong testament to the research strength of Professor Zhi Wang, who has been performing world-class research and consistently publishing in top-tier venues in the security area since he joined the department,” said Xin Yuan, chair of the Department of Computer Science.

Wang is the fifth member of the department to receive the award, Yuan added.

As part of the $499,672 award, Wang is expected to continue his research and also do several outreach projects.

He also will develop a new course that teaches students to specifically create secure software, something that will make students more marketable when they search for jobs.

Wang said there are several ideas in the works, including purchasing a number of special credit card-sized computers that will be housed in a lab on campus and be available for students wishing to conduct experiments with them.