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BU research supports homeland security initiatives

In the aftermath of September 11, Binghamton University, along with the other 63 campuses in the State University of New York System, was asked by SUNY Chancellor Robert King to deploy its intellectual and human resources to address the challenges facing the nation as a result of terrorist activity.

“While Binghamton faculty researchers are involved in myriad projects with defense and security applications, two of the University’s most developed, strategic research thrusts are in the areas of advanced sensor development and threat detection, and cyber-security,” said Stephen Gilje, associate vice president for research. “Binghamton University is involved in active collaborations in these fields with industrial and governmental laboratories including IBM, Corning, EPA, and the Naval Research Laboratory.”

With support from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Science Foundation (NSF), DARPA, and the Office of Naval Research (ONR), an interdisciplinary group of researchers in chemistry, biology, and engineering are developing a broad array of sensors and sensory materials for biological and chemical analyses and threat detection, as well as advanced motion and sound detection capabilities. The world’s smallest microphone and an “electronic nose” capable of replacing bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs are just two innovations stemming from this work.

Sensor related faculty expertise at Binghamton spans the disciplines, Gilje said. It includes:

* Biowarfare Agent Detection– Omowunmi Sadik, assistant professor, Chemistry
* Chemical Weapons Detection-Sadik
* Electrochemical ArrayBased Gas Detection– Sadik
* Environmental and Agricultural Analysis– Sadik
* Hazardous Metal Ion Detection-Wayne Jones, associate professor, Chemistry
* Ion Selective Materials-M.Stanley Whittingham, professor, Chemistry
* Motion and Sound/Vibration Detection-Ron Miles, professor, Mechanical Engineering
* Nanostructured Sensing Materials-C.J. Zhong, assistant professor, Chemistry
* Nerve Agent Detection-Jones
* Small Molecule Detection-Allistair Lees, professorChemistry
* Microbiological Thin Films-David Davies, assistant professorBiological Sciences

Gilje said related sensor and threat detection research projects being carried out at Binghamton University include:

Facial Recognition

Zhongfei Zhang, assistant professor of computer science, has developed a prototype system based on subspace morphing theory that allows any object to be identified using an essential singular value vector. The vector is relatively independent of the viewing angle, allowing faces to be recognized in context-independent fashion. The working prototype is being extended to factor out such dynamics as facial expressions and makeup.

Lijun Yin, also an assistant professor of computer science, is working on image analysis and synthesis, 3-D modeling, medical imaging, and computer graphics and animation. Yin’s work will make it possible not only to recognizes faces, but, based on collected data, to generate facial images suitable for reconstructive surgery or to aid in the identification of human remains.

Aircraft Hijack Detection and Recovery

Binghamton University researchers Frank Cardullo and Hal Lewis, associate professors of mechanical engineering and systems science and industrial engineering, respectively, are working together to develop the software and systems necessary to detect a potential aircraft hijacking. Their application would automatically take over flight controls of a hijacked plane, and land the plane safely. The two-step approach will first depend on the development of software that can facilitate a computerized determination, based on the unique qualities of man-machine interfaces, of whether an authorized pilot is flying the aircraft. A flight control algorithm integrating the existing capabilities of the autopilot, the flight management system and the Global Positioning System will also be developed so that planes might be landed safely when the aforementioned software determines that an unauthorized pilot is in the cockpit.

Digital Watermarking

Jessica Fridrich, a research professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering in the Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science, is working with military and corporate partners to ensure the security of digital images and recordings through digital watermarking. By helping to assure that digital images and recordings used by military leaders and emergency response personnel are authentic, her work is increasing the credibility of digital communications in sensitive military and law enforcement applications.

In collaboration with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome and Eastman Kodak in Rochester, Fridrich is designing a fragile watermark for digital cameras. Unlike robust watermarks, fragile watermarks “break” as soon as anything is done to alter the original image or signal. Fridrich’s work, which allowed Kodak to produce its first digital watermarking camera, the DC-290, is also key to a proposed $8 million University-government-industry consortium that will push the theoretical mathematical basis behind this new technology, advance exploratory development concepts of prototyping and then move to build applications systems for military and commercial use.

Biomimetic Acoustic Sensors

Binghamton University researcher Ronald Miles, professor of mechanical engineering, is working with a multi-million dollar DARPA grant to develop innovative sound processing and acoustic sensor technologies inspired by the ears of a small parasitoid fly for military purposes.

Miles three-year DARPA award can be expected to lead to the creation of such things as “smart dust”-microphones so small that they could be scattered across a battlefield to detect the sounds and determine the direction of troop or equipment movements, even providing enough sensitivity to alert infantry personnel to sniper activity.

Miles work will also find a host of important civilian applications, including next-generation hearing aids, security devices, cell phones and teleconferencing equipment, where the use of miniaturized directional microphones and signal processing can significantly enhance performance.

Ground Penetrating Radar

Ground penetrating radar or subsurface imaging holds significant promise in a number of important military and civilian applications. From a defense perspective, GPR can help ferret out underground command and control bunkers, land mines, and unexploded ordinance. It can also help to locate and monitor underground storage tanks as well as help to ensure the quality and integrity of roadways and bridges.

Binghamton University researcher Richard Plumb, professor of electrical engineering, with funding from DARPA, is working with Lockheed Martin in Syracuse to develop models and algorithms that will optimize images resulting from GPR readings obtained across all types of terrain and from a variety of monitoring locations. Like all types of radar, GPR involves the transmission of an electromagnetic signal and the reception back of a scattered or echo signal that can be recorded and analyzed. GPR signals can be transmitted and received from both ground-based and airborne systems or a combination or the two. Maximizing performance and data gathering based on conditions is critical because GPR uses low-frequency signal to achieve the best penetration, guaranteeing a loss of detail in the generated image. As a result, geometric-based algorithms must be used to turn the received data from an unrecognizable image to an informative one.

One of the potential applications for GPR is the safe detection of land mines. As of last year, there were an estimated 110 millions land mines buried in 70 countries: one for every 52 people in the world. About 2,000 people are injured in land-mine accidents every month, one victim every 20 minutes. Around 800 of these will die, 30 to 40 percent of them under 15 years of age.

In the discipline of cyber-security, many BU researchers are also engaged in a broad spectrum of projects with defense and security applications, Gilje said. Some of those include:

A Biological Approach to System Information Security

Communications systems, just like biological systems, are highly interconnected and have many entry points. Unlike biological systems, communications systems lack an immune system. Because of this, it is very easy to damage the system through the introduction of a malicious program or to destroy the whole system through unauthorized access.

A Binghamton University research group is working with a $308,000 Air Force Research Laboratory grant to develop an artificial immune system for communications systems including the Internet. The system, which is to be developed by a team of Binghamton researchers led by Victor Skormin, professor of electrical engineering, will evolve defenses in response to such “pathogens” as computer viruses and hacker attacks, in much the same way that biological immune systems develop immunity to viruses and bacteria. The project, titled Biological Approach to System Information Security (BASIS), will explore a new paradigm for protecting communications systems by mimicking natural defense strategies developed in biological systems over millions of years of evolution. Skormin’s team will include Douglas Summerville, assistant professor of electrical engineering, and Dennis McGee, associate professor of biology.


Satellite communications, particularly free-space laser communications, is the only technology capable of meeting the demands of today’s communications revolution. Laser communication allows for the secure transmission of 2.2 gigabytes of data per second, essentially the contents of a complete hard drive, in the blink of an eye. The photonics research program in Victor Skormin’s Laser Communication Laboratory at Binghamton University is aimed at finding new ways to point and control lasers with the accuracy necessary to transmit data to a moving target, such as a satellite or jet airplane, across a thousand or more miles. This work offers the potential for virtually intercept free communication.

Protecting Servers Against Denial-of-Service Attacks

A Binghamton University research project headed up by Kanad Ghose, associate professor of computer science, is designed to allow high assurance servers to cope with and provide at least a minimum level of service when a denial-of-service (DoS) attack is underway.

Denial of service attacks essentially involve a hacker’s purposeful transmission to a server of spoof IP addresses from one or more machines “pretending” to seek access to the server. During such attacks, servers end up waiting for acknowledgement from fake IP addresses, a process that can consume most or all of the bandwith available to access the server, effectively shutting it down.

Ghose’s work is based on the use of active network interface (ANI) network cards that include programmable processor and RAM. In this approach, ANI serves as the key component of the gateway to the server and implements both pro-active and reactive measures for coping with DoS attacks. A prototype system is being constructed with funding from the National Science Foundation and equipment support from Cisco.

Sensor Network Protocols

Supported by the National Science Foundation and a closely related DARPA contract on power-aware computing and communication, Nael Abu-Ghazaleh, assistant professor or computer science, and Ghose are also working to extend the protocols for ad-hoc wireless sensor networks. They are developing such new features as route caching and power modulation based on error rates for proactive route maintenance for mobile sensors. They are also developing for static sensor networks: optimal power level adjustments for energy efficiency, message combining for amortizing transmission overhead, an intelligent placement algorithm for maximum coverage and on-demand transmissions for further energy reduction.


Jessica Fridrich is a leader in the field of steganography, the science of secret communication. Fridrich’s research focuses on developing mathematical theory and appropriate equipment or apparatus to hide information in digital communications. She also works on ways to crack steganographic schemes of her own and others’ making.

Fridrich, whose work promises to spark major advances in digital security, including digital audio, video and photography, currently holds three patents, is applying for two more and has developed a Windows-based application, “Securestego,” that offers capabilities not available in other commercial steganographic software. Fridrich’s latest project, self-embedding, is expected to perfect a new steganographic technique that will allow data to be embedded in a digital image and later extracted without altering the original image. All current data embedding techniques distort the image with “noise” and mean the inevitable loss of information during the extraction process. Fridrich has also developed detection techniques 10 times better than those used by currently available products to ferret out hidden digital communications. These techniques are of particular interest to the military because they can help to protect against and intercept secret terrorist communications that rely on steganography. They will be at the heart of a proposed $8 million University-government-industry consortium involving Binghamton University, the Air Force Research Laboratory at Rome and Eastman Kodak. The consortium is designed to help defend the security of military and digital communications and uncover secret terrorist communications.

Fridrich’s work has been instrumental in advancing digital watermarking and other steganographic techniques, and prior to September 11 had been credited by a technical advisor to Rome Labs with helping to protect against and intercept terrorist communications from Osama Bin Laden.

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