Earlence Fernandes awarded National Science Foundation CAREER Award

By Elea Levin

Earlence Fernandes headshotEarlence Fernandes, an assistant professor in the UW-Madison Computer Sciences Department, was awarded the National Science Foundation’s CAREER Award for his research on Security and Privacy Foundations of Internet-Scale User-Centered Automation. 

The award comes with a continuing grant of over $500,000, which will be used for Fernandes’ research project, which focuses on building least-privilege distributed computer systems with applications to the Internet of Things and beyond. 

“Due to the commoditization of cloud computing, all of our digital data and physical devices are now available on the Internet sitting behind vendor-specific cloud services and APIs,” Fernandes explained. “Controlled sharing protocols (e.g., OAuth) make all this flexible automation possible, yet, our collective experience has shown that these protocols are insufficient from a security standpoint.”

The importance of the project is to work towards “empowering non-programmers to securely create automations that improve convenience, safety, and energy efficiency in a privacy-preserving fashion.” Fernandes is aiming to establish methods for sharing in distributed systems so there are stronger regulations on how third-parties can use the data that is shared.

“I’m interested in expanding the distributed authorization literature to incorporate the guarantee that data is being used according to user-defined policy,” Fernandes said. “The key insight is that certain types of cloud computing systems (e.g., Trigger-action platforms) are well-structured enough to make this possible and scalable.”

Fernandes came to UW-Madison in 2019 after earning his PhD in computer science and engineering from the University of Michigan. His primary research interest is systems security with an emphasis on evolving areas, including cyber-physical systems/IoT, machine learning, and mixed reality.