CULLEN COLLEGE OF ENGINEERING

University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering

News

Professor Wins Grant to Improve Online Security

Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

By: 

Toby Weber
Chen
Chen

The days of worrying whether it’s safe to pay a bill online may soon be over. Such encrypted transmissions could end up immune to hackers thanks in part to the efforts to Yuhua Chen, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the Cullen College of Engineering. Chen is collaborating on a three-year $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to help develop an uncrackable form of data encryption that is ideal for protecting the most sensitive information sent over the internet.

This approach is a new spin on quantum cryptography. It takes advantage of the basic principles of quantum mechanics, the study of how the smallest possible particles of matter and waves of energy behave. In short, they act far differently from the world we experience in our day-to-day lives.

Photons, the smallest possible units of light, are quantum objects. Photons can have multiple field orientations, known as polarizations. Before they are directly studied, though, they will exhibit the characteristics of not just one, but several different orientations at the same time. It is only when they are tested that they take on a single state, in which they permanently remain.

The cryptography being developed by Chen and her collaborators is based on this phenomenon. Under this system, the piece of information that is used to encrypt and decrypt data (called the key) consists of a series of photon exchanges between the sender and the recipient.

Under the method Chen and her collaborators are developing, then, it would not matter if a hacker intercepts these photons as they travel from sender to recipient. Since photons take on a random orientation when they are intercepted, they would offer no useful information on their own.

This offers a significant step up from traditional cryptography techniques, which, in theory, can be broken with enough computing power. “In quantum cryptography, if the key is equal to the data length – say a 100 bit key for a 100 bit transmission – it’s been proven that a data transmission is absolutely secure. If you can transmit a set of keys securely with quantum cryptography methods, then you can have absolute secure transmission of the data itself. No method could crack the data,” Chen said.

This level of security would be ideal for transmitting everything from banking data to sensitive information involving national security, she said.

Chen is collaborating on this grant with Pramode Verma of the University of Oklahoma -Tulsa, and Subhash Kak, from the Oklahoma State University.

Faculty: 

Department: 

Related News Stories

Cullen College Staff Wins UH President’s Excellence Award

Delvina Branch, winner of a President's Excellence Award, with Renu Khator, UH president; Joseph W. Tedesco, Elizabeth D. Rockwell dean of the UH Cullen College of Engineering; and Suresh Khator, associate dean of graduate programs and computing facilities at the Cullen College.

Delvina Branch, office coordinator in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, received a 2018 President's Excellence Award.

“It was a tremendous honor to be nominated and to win,” said Branch, who has worked at UH for four years. “I truly appreciate my department for thinking of me and nominating me.”

Mission: Possible — Mapping Dangerous Terrain

UH researchers are testing prototypes for the project in Brays Bayou.

UH Engineers Focus on Degradable Reconnaissance Vehicles and Evasive Drone Maneuvers

 

Ensuring military forces have up-to-date information about a potentially hostile region offers obvious advantages, but current methods for doing that – especially along shorelines, where underwater mines and other hazards can pose serious risks – all have drawbacks. It is especially difficult if keeping the technology out of enemy hands is a priority.

UH Researchers Win $1M Award to Boost Student Success

Lisette Montemayor, incoming freshman, is part of UH's newest Student Success Program funded by the NSF.

The National Science Foundation awarded a $999,029 grant to a team of University of Houston researchers for a new program aimed at studying the impact of scholarships, engagement and other support on low-income students and their academic success.