Kiyavash receives NSF CAREER award to study timing in network forensics


Negar Kiyavash has received an NSF CAREER Award for her work on the impact of timing in network security.

Negar Kiyavash
Negar Kiyavash

The project, “CAREER: A Timing Approach to Network Forensics,” examines how timing can be used as another dimension in diagnosing threats to network security. The broader impact of the research is in understanding inference over complex networks such as social networks, biological systems and financial networks.

“In forensic applications, timing can help us link events and even understand causation and intent,” said Kiyavash, an assistant professor of industrial and enterprise systems engineering. “It gives us insight into potential threats.”

Kiyavash’s CAREER award, which totals $450,000, will fund her research in four thrusts. The first deals with the analysis and mitigation of queuing timing side channels that arise in the presence of shared resources. When resources are shared, a certain amount of information gets leaked to other users even when not intended. Kiyavash’s work will help quantify and mitigate the leakage.

The second thrust is the development of casual inference metrics and algorithms. Identifying cause-and-effect relationships will help us learn beyond what is feasible by study of correlations alone. In a social network like Facebook, for example, you could identify in a group of friends, which one influences the others.

Third, Kiyavash will examine the design of efficient compression and storage approaches for network flows using good lossy compression codes for point processes. And finally, she will design network flow watermarks to be inserted in packet timings, which will serve the dual purpose of providing data integrity as well as a means for network inference.

“There would be applications in computer security, such as detecting stepping-stone attacks,” she said. “You could insert watermarks into network flows, which would serve as a kind of tracking device to signal malicious activity.”

Kiyavash joined the Illinois faculty in 2009, after earning her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical and computer engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She also holds a B.S. degree in electrical and computer engineering from the Sharif University of Technology, Tehran.

NSF’s CAREER Award is given to junior faculty “who exemplify the role of teach-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education, and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organizations.”

Kiyavash credits the supportive environment in her department and the college, her students and her collaboration with other brilliant colleagues key components in receiving the award.

“Research at Illinois is very synergistic,” she said. “Involvement in multidisciplinary research across the college inspires my research.”