San José State engineer gets grant to safeguard biometric data from NSF
Nima Karimian, assistant professor of computer engineering at the San José State University, has received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Research Initiation Initiative (CRII).
The sum will be used to scrutinize and strengthen commercial biometric technologies, particularly against side-channel attacks — threats based on obtaining data about computers’ physical characteristics during use, like time, power, and sound.
The $175,000 grant will go towards supporting researchers in the first three years in an academic position after earning a Ph.D.
However, according to the assistant professor, if left unchecked, biometric data sharing could also lead to theft, privacy threats, and illegal access issues.
“For instance, if your fingerprint or face biometric data is compromised by an adversary, it could be reused to gain unauthorized access to a system or even duplicate the biometric data to hack into victims’ devices or accounts,” he told SJSU.
Side-channel attacks are fairly well understood in general computing. For example, they could be based on the different amounts of power machines give out when executing certain processes, or on the sound of keyboard keys potentially revealing a user’s password.
In biometrics, however, the amount of research related to side-channel attacks has been limited at best, according to Karimian.
His ‘Physical Side-Channel Attacks in Biometric Systems’ research project will now focus on addressing these issues.
“Receiving this prestigious award is a great honor for me,” Karimian said. “This grant allows me to launch my independent research here at SJSU and to start new research directions developing secure biometric systems that can protect citizens’ privacy.
Karimian emphasized the importance of protecting biometric data, due to its immutability.