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The human society is in a wireless and mobile era. People are enjoying a quality life brought by mobile devices while subject to growing cyber threats. There is thus a pressing need to develop secure and usable protection mechanisms for mobile devices.

Yanchao Zhang, associate professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering, received a $500,000 grant as the sole PI from National Science Foundation to secure mobile devices through multiple lines of defense. U.S. Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema, an adjunct professor in ASU’s School of Social Work, sent Zhang a congratulation letter on receiving this grant.

In this project entitled “TWC: Small: Secure Mobile Devices through Multiple Lines of Defense,” Yanchao Zhang and his Ph.D. students in ASU’s Cyber & Network Security Group seek to develop, implement, and evaluate secure and usable countermeasures against new attacks on mobile devices. The proposed research consists of four thrusts. The first thrust is to develop secure and usable defenses against video-assisted keystroke inference attacks in which an attacker can infer a user’s typed inputs on the touchscreen by recording and analyzing the video of the device’s backside during the user’s input process. The second thrust is to develop secure and usable defenses against power-assisted app inference attacks where an attacker intrudes the victim’s mobile device through an infected app and then accesses the power profile of the device. The third thrust is to develop secure and usable defenses against device losses/thefts, which automatically lock a mobile device once it leaves its owner’s vicinity. The key idea of the proposed defenses is to let a mobile device automatically, quickly and accurately recognize its physical separation from its owner by detecting and analyzing the changes in wireless signals. The last thrust is to implement and evaluate the discovered attacks and proposed defenses. The implementation and evaluation will be conducted on smartphones, tablets, laptops and Universal Software Radio Peripheral platforms.

Zhang’s primary research is on security and privacy issues in computer and networked systems, with current focus areas in emerging wireless networks, mobile crowdsourcing, internet of things, social networking and computing, wireless/mobile systems for people with disabilities, big data analytics, mobile/wearable devices, and wireless/mobile health. He is also the PI of other active federal grants on cyber and network security.

In his NSF project entitled“NeTS: Small: Secure Crowdsourcing-Based Cooperative Spectrum Sensing,” where he is the sole PI, Zhang is leading the research effort to develop a secure and privacy-preserving architecture to sense the availability of wireless spectrum via the collective effort of ubiquitous mobile users. Spectrum sensing and sharing are the key techniques to solving the worldwide wireless spectrum shortage and enabling ubiquitous high-speed wireless network access.

Zhang is collaborating with Terri Hedgpeth (co-PI at ASU) and Rui Zhang, his former doctoral student and currently a tenure-track assistant professor at the University of Delaware, in the NSF grant “NeTS: Medium: Collaborative Research: Secure and Usable Indoor Navigation for Individuals with Visual Impairment.” The research team is pursuing a challenging research plan on developing, prototyping, and evaluating a secure and usable indoor navigation system for the visually impaired in complex physical environments.

He is working with the same team in the NSF grant project entitled “TWC: Small: Collaborative: Secure and Usable Mobile Authentication for People with Visual Impairment,” where his team aims to develop and evaluate novel secure and usable mobile authentication techniques for people with visual impairment. Their ultimate goal is to help visually impaired persons prevent unauthorized access to their mobile devices which store increasingly more private information.

In the grant “Sybil-Resilient Influence Measurement in Microblogging Systems” awarded by the Army Research Office, Zhang is collaborating with Professor Huan Liu, the co-PI at CIDSE, to develop effective and efficient defenses against fake accounts (known as Sybils) in microblogging systems such as Twitter.

Zhang is actively engaged in professional activities. He has been on the editorial boards of IEEE Transactions on Mobile Computing, IEEE Wireless Communications, IEEE Transactions on Control of Network Systems, and IEEE Transactions on Vehicular Technology. He was the lead organizer for the 2015 NSF Workshop on Wireless Security and the 2016 ARO-funded Workshop on Trustworthy Human-Centric Social Networking: Challenges and Research Directions. Additionally, he has been an Area Technical Program Committee Chair for IEEE International Conference on Computer Communications (INFOCOM) 2016/2017 and IEEE Conference on Communications and Network Security (CNS) 2015/2016. He has committed to serving as the Technical Program Co-chair for IEEE Conference on Communications and Network Security (CNS) 2017.

Zhang received his bachelor’s in computer science and technology from Nanjing University of Posts & Telecommunications in 1999, and his master’s in computer science and technology from Beijing University of Posts & Telecommunications in 2002, and his doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Florida in 2006. He received the National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2009 and was an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at New Jersey Institute of Technology from August 2006 to June 2010. He was recruited by the cross-cutting faculty search committee led by Kyle Squires and Ronald Adrian and came to Arizona State University in June 2010 as an associate professor in the School of Electrical, Computer and Energy Engineering.  Zhang is currently directing ASU’s Cyber & Network Security Group.

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