J. Alex Halderman Named One of Popular Science’s Brilliant Ten

Halderman has met significant contributions in the areas of electronic voting security, internet security, and electronic censorship resistance.

Prof. Alex Halderman Enlarge

Associate Professor J. Alex Halderman has been named one of Popular Science’s 2015 Brilliant 10 for his work in computer security and privacy. From exposing the vulnerabilities in e-voting systems to making voting more secure, he is the epitome of a “bright young mind” that Popular Science selects for their annual list.

Prof. Halderman has made many contributions in the area of voting. In 2007, he demonstrated the first e-voting virus and worked with the California Secretary of State office to help lead the first rigorous state-level review of e-voting security. He has demonstrated vulnerabilities in electronic voting machines and in Internet voting systems, which included breaking into the Washington DC testbed for Internet voting in 2010 in less than 24 hours. He led the first independent review of the India’s national e-voting system, which prompted the country to undertake major reforms, and in 2014 participated in a similar effort in Estonia.

Prof. Halderman has detected and demonstrated vulnerabilities in other systems used by the public, such as an early Sony DRM scheme that created security liabilities, and weaknesses in the security of airport scanners and municipal traffic light systems.

In the area of Internet security, Prof. Halderman led a research effort that mined large sets of network data and exposed serious weaknesses in RSA and DSA cryptographic key generation affecting millions of servers, which led to security improvements to the Linux kernel. To help other researchers apply similar techniques, his research team created ZMap, an open-source tool for performing Internet-wide network surveys that can probe the entire IPv4 address space in minutes. His team used these techniques to provide early monitoring in the aftermath of the infamous OpenSSL Heartbleed vulnerability and to suggest improvements to HTTPS certificate authorities.

In another effort to improve Internet security, Prof. Halderman and other U-M researchers joined with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Mozilla, and other industry and non-profit partners to offer a free, automated, and easy process for converting webservers from HTTP to HTTPS that is implemented with a single command. Before a website can use HTTPS, it needs to purchase a digital certificate for its domain name from a “certificate authority,” an identity-checking organization that users’ browsers are programmed to trust. The researchers introduced a certificate authority, Let’s Encrypt, that will be run for the public benefit and reduce the cost and complexity of deploying HTTPS websites.

In the area of censorship resistance, Prof. Halderman introduced a fundamentally new approach to circumventing state-level Internet censorship, called Telex, based on placing anticensorship technology into ISP network backbones outside the censoring country. He worked with Iranian collaborators to publish the first peer-reviewed technical study of Iran’s national censorship infrastructure, revealing much about the extent and nature of one of the largest and most sophisticated Internet censorship regimes in the world.

Prof. Halderman received his PhD in Computer Science from Princeton in 2009 and joined the faculty at Michigan the same year. He was selected for the 1938E Award by the College of Engineering in 2015 in recognition of his excellence in teaching and his scholarly integrity. He serves as the director of the Center for Computer Security and Society.