Ethan Melvick has been interested in security since he was 12 years old. Now a sophomore in computer engineering at the U, Melvick is part of a lab developing programs that will protect engineer’s systems against cyber-attacks.
Melvick and professor Armin Tajalli’s work targets a specific type of side-channel attacks called “power analysis.” These attacks track the current consumption of a circuit and eventually discover the secret key used in encryption. This is a very common technique that hackers use to easily and quickly decrypt data.
Together, the team has developed an engine that simulates the circuits under attack, enabling engineers to evaluate robustness of their systems’ security. The engine is a software program that simulates performance of any digital hardware and provides quantitative measures on the level of vulnerability a system against attacks.
“These kind of power-analysis attacks are shockingly easy to figure and carry out if you have enough technological knowledge on the subject. Those that have the resources are the type of people you really don’t want to look at your data,” Melvick said. “The average user of technology won’t know that this program is there and keeping them secure, but it is.”
The program just entered its first major round of testing. So far, it has been successful in simulating circuits on a logic level and is now working toward accuracy on tracking current consumption levels and detecting any signature that might be produced by the system.
Find this article and a lot more in the 2020 “Student Innovation @ the U” report. The publication is presented by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute to celebrate student innovators, change-makers, and entrepreneurs.