UD computer and information scientist will study secure mobile cloud sensing

From San Francisco to Philadelphia, America’s metropolises are slowly becoming “smart cities.”

In smart cities, infrastructure is equipped with sensors that gather data on things like noise, air pollution, or traffic conditions. This information is used to optimize urban planning.

But it’s not just streetlights and roads that serve as data hubs — our smartphones and tablets can also collect information that mobile service providers could, in theory, provide to application developers and startup companies working on problems like pollution and crime reduction, in a similar way that cloud service providers offer on-demand computing services. This paradigm is called mobile cloud sensing, and before it becomes a widespread reality, researchers must address security and privacy concerns.

Rui Zhang, an assistant professor of computer and information sciences at the University of Delaware, has received a $500,000 National Science Foundation grant to study security and privacy challenges associated with mobile cloud sensing.  The grant, which is estimated to run three years, was awarded through NSF’s Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) program.

With this project, Zhang has four main goals: investigate three new ways to keep aggregated sensed data secure and private as it is collected and transported, study a new framework that will optimize efficiency while minimizing the extent to which mobile users must reveal their location, design a unified framework that will help cities determine whether they can trust sensed data, and finally, build a prototype mobile cloud sensing system.

“Mobile cloud sensing has great potential in enabling many exciting smart-city applications that could help make the cities of the future safer, more efficient, and more intelligent,” he said. “I look forward to developing and prototyping a secure mobile cloud sensing system with help from these NSF funds.”

Zhang will also integrate his research with education. He plans to develop a new graduate course on wireless and mobile security, provide research opportunities to underrepresented students and international students, and offer an educational session to high school students.

“As mobile and connected devices become ubiquitous in our daily lives, research on security and privacy is essential,” said Kathy McCoy, chair of the computer and information sciences department. “Rui has done exemplary research on these issues, and I am confident that he will continue to make important innovations under this grant.”

This is Zhang’s second NSF award this year. In January, he was awarded an NSF Faculty Early Career Development Award, “Secure Database-Driven Dynamic Spectrum Sharing,” to address issues of security and privacy surrounding radio spectrum sharing. That five-year, $500,000 grant was also awarded through NSF’s SaTC program.

Zhang joined the University of Delaware faculty in 2016 after serving as an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Hawaii from 2013 to 2016.

Zhang is not the only UD professor making waves in the realm of smart cities. Lawrence Agbemabiese, associate research professor in energy and environmental policy, and Nii Attoh-Okine, professor in civil and environmental engineering, are hosting a conference on smart cities at the University of Delaware’s Clayton Hall on November 28 and 29. Called “Creating Smart City Ecosystems to Address Problems of Urbanization in the Global South,” the extended abstract deadline is October 15.