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Cybersecurity expert recognized among world’s top computing professionals

Gail-Joon Ahn is pictured with one of his patent certificates. He has earned six U.S. patents for his research in user-centric identity management and was recently named a Distinguished Scientist by the Association for Computing Machinery. Photographer: Nora Skrodenis/ASU

Gail-Joon Ahn is pictured with one of his patent certificates. He has earned six U.S. patents for his research in user-centric identity management and was recently named a Distinguished Scientist by the Association for Computing Machinery. Photographer: Nora Skrodenis/ASU

Fifteen years of research in cybersecurity and keeping the world’s data safe has earned Gail-Joon Ahn a special designation among leading members of the computing field.

Ahn was named a Distinguished Scientist by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s leading association of computing professionals.

Ahn is one of 49 distinguished members selected in 2015 for significant accomplishments or impact within the computing field. The recognition aims to highlight how the work of these innovators is changing the world.

“Whenever we use an app on our phone to get driving directions, securely pay bills online, or conduct an internet search, we are benefiting from the research and efforts of computing professionals,” said ACM President Alexander L. Wol in a press release.

This year’s awardees include ACM members drawn from leading academic institutions, as well as corporate and national research laboratories around the world, including Argentina, Belgium, Canada, China, Egypt, Finland, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Portugal, Qatar and the United Kingdom.

Ahn is a Fulton Entrepreneurial Professor in the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and director of the Global Security Initiative’s Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics.

Pioneering contributions in secure computing

“Ahn’s early work, focused on access control models and mechanisms, is the core of modern security systems,” said Ziming Zhao, an assistant research professor at ASU and one of Ahn’s former students. “His work has significantly advanced our understanding of role-based access control (RBAC) models and mechanisms, which are used by the majority of public organizations and private enterprises,” added Zhao.

Ahn is known as an expert in security analytics and big-data-driven security intelligence.

“Ahn is a skilled researcher who has done pioneering work on digital identity management and access control,” said Elisa Bertino, a professor in computer science at Purdue University who has collaborated with Ahn on joint research proposals, conference organizations and service activities.

Ahn’s research is imperative as society becomes increasingly mobile and cyber-dependent. This has been the inspiration and thrust behind his research in addressing critical cybersecurity challenges.

“The notion of identity is the most important component of the current computing age,” said Ahn, who has earned six U.S. patents for his research in user-centric identity management.

When users interact with Internet services, such as video conferencing, e-commerce and web-based applications, the services are often tailored for their personal use. Ahn has invented a technology that allows users to better manage their online identities by controlling what information is stored, the content of that information, and who is allowed to view the information.

Ahn’s contribution is extremely important in the context of user privacy.

Sometimes you are required to show a credential to prove identifying attributes such as age and zip code, but a user might inadvertently offer excess information such as what state they are from when providing a driver’s license, described Ahn.

“I believe the concept of user-centricity will help empower users to have a more controlled release of their personal information,” Ahn said.

His contributions enable more secure transactions and mobile payments and allow more autonomy in an individual’s privacy control. They also have the potential to dramatically reduce identity theft.

The import of his research can be seen in the names of his financial supporters: the National Science Foundation, National Security Agency, Department of Defense, Office of Naval Research, Army Research Office, Department of Justice, Department of Energy, Bank of America, Google and Microsoft.

He has attracted funding in excess of $3.4 million since joining ASU in 2008. He has authored more than 150 refereed research papers.

Leadership in research collaborations

Ahn is currently helping to lead ASU’s contributions to a $28.1 million national research program to develop cybersecurity tools and standards to protect the country’s electricity infrastructure from attacks. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the University of Illinois is leading the program, called the Cyber Resilient Energy Delivery Consortium (CREDC).

As director of the Center for Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics, Ahn will continue to fully leverage ASU’s capabilities in cybersecurity.

“He is a great educator and has created a research group at ASU that has gained visibility as a top academic cyber security research group,” said Bertino.

Zhao complimented his doctoral mentor’s teaching style saying, “Ahn supports his students to pursue their own research interests instead of assigning them to work for him. As a leading researcher who has developed models, algorithms and systems for solving real-world security problems, he guides his students to tackle the most urgent problems in their areas of interest.”

“I aim to continuously focus on three major activities: education, research and innovation,” said Ahn. By focusing on these areas Ahn said he intends to play a role in producing an outstanding workforce in the area of national security, tackling short-term and long-term security challenges, and significantly contributing to economic growth in Arizona and the U.S. by transferring innovative and patented technologies to the marketplace.

Ahn plans to expand current security-related research activities at the center through collaboration with diverse experts at ASU and other universities, government agencies and industry.

His career has been characterized by recognition including earning the Department of Energy’s prestigious Early Career Principal Investigator Award in 2003 for achievements as a junior faculty member, the Educator of the Year Award from the Federal Information Systems Security Educators’ Association in 2005 and becoming an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Senior in 2007.

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Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

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