April 6, 2018

Can Adelphi Computer Science Students Protect Our Elections and Our Privacy?

Computer Science Students

Few days go by without news of threats to the voting process or intrusions into personal privacy. Technology, or misuses of it, is the culprit. Can better technology be the solution? Adelphi computer science students are deeply engaged in research projects aimed at finding out.

Led by Kees Leune, Ph.D., assistant professor of mathematics and computer science, Adelphi students are exploring the potential for hackproof electronic voting and uncovering new threats to privacy posed by virtual assistants like Amazon’s Alexa.

The research into new voting systems by Adelphi seniors Jai Punjwani and Mateusz Gembarzewski centers on the use of blockchain, the technology that is the backbone of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Blockchain is a public ledger containing transactions that cannot be altered once they are entered. It offers transparency and rock-solid security.

“We think blockchain can be applied to voting,” Dr. Leune explained. “It’s a promising concept, but it has to be proven. Punjwani and Gembarzewski are trying to come up not only with a methodology but with an advanced software prototype that demonstrates that the idea works.”

The researchers will be presenting a paper, “Understanding Blockchain and Its Potential Applications on Electronic Voting Systems,” later this month at Adelphi’s annual Research Conference. They will then take their findings to outside conferences.

The second major area of student research is into the Internet of Things, computers that use sensors and artificial intelligence to perceive the world around them and respond. Internet-connected thermostats, which can sense when no one is at home and automatically adjust temperatures, are an example. So are the increasingly popular voice-activated home assistants that can perform numerous tasks on command.

These virtual assistants can seem magical, but they also present a privacy risk. Where, for instance, do records of interactions go? That’s what Adelphi senior Vlad Verba is trying to discover. With the help of Dr. Leune, he’s investigating the nature of the information that is being sent from the devices to servers, and tracking the times when it is being sent. He is also interviewing people in the industry to supplement his research project, “Ramifications of Widespread Consumer Adoption of Personal Digital Assistants Using Speech Recognition Technologies.”

“We give our students great opportunities to do research,” said Dr. Leune. “Doing research gives them a deep understanding of computer systems and real-world experience they can put at the top of their résumés. It’s one of the best ways to learn and an entrée to a great job and career.”


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