Cornell Bowers College of Computing and Information Science
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Schneider paper receives NSA cybersecurity award

January 17, 2023

The National Security Agency (NSA) has selected a paper co-authored by Fred Schneider as the winner of the 10th Annual Best Scientific Cybersecurity Paper Competition. The award recognizes foundational papers in cybersecurity.

Schneider, the Samuel B. Eckert Professor of Computer Science in the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science, and long-time collaborator Leslie Lamport from Microsoft Research wrote the winning paper, “Verifying Hyperproperties with Temporal Logic of Actions (TLA).” The research, published at the 2021 IEEE Computer Security Foundations Symposium, enables system developers to have increased confidence in the cybersecurity of their systems. 

The paper answers a key question: How can you establish that a computer algorithm satisfies an important class of security properties?  

"Not only is it great to have one’s work recognized, but winning the award will expose our work to a considerably larger audience – and that’s going to increase its impact," Schneider said.   

Lamport and Schneider show how to confirm that an algorithm satisfies certain hyperproperties, which are needed to establish that a system is secure. Hyperproperties are simply sets of properties, and they are used to express certain security policies, such as restrictions on information leaks, which ordinary properties alone cannot specify. A hyperproperty must be understood by comparing multiple runs of a program, such as checking whether the value of one variable is correlated with the value of another. Such a correlation would indicate that the variable leaks information.  

The winning paper captures the transformative breakthrough that hyperproperties can be formulated using the Temporal Logic of Actions (TLA), which is a way to describe systems in terms of a single mathematical formula. The field has a well-established toolset for TLA that will facilitate using and studying hyperproperties in future cybersecurity research and development.

“This paper is one of the best examples in the 10 years of the competition that highlights the pinnacle of practical cybersecurity research: advancements that are anchored on strong foundational work,” said Gil Herrera, the NSA’s Director of Research.

The NSA also awarded an honorable mention to Alaa Daffalla, who is now a doctoral student in the field of computer science at Cornell University, for her previous work, “Defensive Technology Use by Political Activists during the Sudanese Revolution.” The paper, which was presented at the 2021 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy, investigates the technology practices of 13 Sudanese activists operating under an oppressive regime.

A panel of cybersecurity experts in industry and academia selected the winning papers.

Notably, two Cornell Bowers CIS faculty have won the award previously: Elaine Shi in 2014 and Raphael Pass in 2022.

Adapted from materials provided by the NSA.