Cybersecurity researcher joins the ranks of the 'brilliant'

September 17th, 2013
Polytechnic Institute of New York University's (NYU-Poly) Justin Cappos joins an elite group of ten young researchers named by Popular Science magazine as this year's "Brilliant 10." For the past 12 years, Popular Science has been searching out the nation's most promising researchers under age 40 and profiling them in the magazine's annual "Brilliant 10" issue, on newsstands now and at

Cappos, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering, was recognized primarily for his work on Seattle, a free, open-source cloud computing system that allows anyone to experience the Internet from the perspective of any location around the globe. Although some users employ Seattle for content distribution or to circumvent censorship, it also provides a safe platform for students to experiment with cybersecurity, mobile devices, and the web. A dozen universities around the world have already use Seattle in 45 classes, mainly to study networking and cybersecurity.

Seattle permits access to resources that exist in any network, anywhere—it presents the Internet not as a specific ISP or government would have users experience it, but as it exists in any location in the world. For example, a student in China whose access is restricted may use Seattle to circumvent censorship and see the same Internet that a student in Brooklyn would see, in real time.

"This isn't a method of hacking into someone's computer and controlling it," explained Cappos, whose computer security background was essential in ensuring the safety of the system. "Instead, Seattle lets users see the Internet as if they were sitting at someone else's computer."

Seattle also runs on smartphones, and its capabilities shine light into what is currently a blind field. "Nobody knows what goes on inside the roughly 1 billion smartphones in the world, or what the Internet would look like from, for example, an Android phone in Afghanistan," said Cappos. Seattle can answer these questions, and is the largest academic research testbed of its kind. It receives funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

This is the first time that a school the size of NYU-Poly has had two Brilliant 10 winners. Maurizio Porfiri, associate professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering and director of the NYU-Poly Dynamical Systems Lab, made the list in 2010 in recognition of his work with bio-inspired robots.

"Popular Science prides itself on revealing the innovations and ideas that are laying today's groundwork for tomorrow's breakthroughs, and the Brilliant 10 is one of the most exciting ways we do that," said Jake Ward, editor in chief of Popular Science. "This collection of 10 brilliant young researchers is our chance to honor the most promising work—and the most hardworking people—in science and technology today."

NYU-Poly President Katepalli R. Sreenivasan added his congratulations, saying, "Professor Cappos has demonstrated the potential for good that technology can bring to society. He has illustrated through his work with his students and throughout his research a strong commitment to protecting privacy, security, and improving our digital lives. I congratulate him on being recognized as one of the top young engineers and scientists by Popular Science. It is an honor for Justin that brings pride to his colleagues and parents alike."

Next up for Cappos:

  • Putting the finishing touches on NetCheck, a diagnostic tool that can determine the causes of failure in networked applications like Skype;
  • Continuing work on the NSF-sponsored Cages project, which protects parts of a computer program from each other so that even if there is a bug in one part of a program, a hacker can be often be prevented from to stealing sensitive information;
  • Developing PolyPassHash, a new approach to storing user passwords so that even if a company is hacked, hackers cannot uncover user passwords;
  • Updating the NSF-supported project called TUF (The Update Framework), which helps secure notoriously vulnerable software updates.

NetCheck, PolyPassHash, and TUF receive support from the Center for Advanced Technology in Telecommunications. Cappos is a faculty member of NYU WIRELESS, a research center for wireless research, computing, and medical applications; the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Security and Privacy at NYU-Poly and NYU, and NYC Media Lab.

Popular Science magazine's Brilliant 10 has long been regarded as a feeder list for other prestigious accolades, notably nearly a dozen previous scientists named to the list have subsequently been chosen for MacArthur Foundation "Genius" awards.

Provided by Polytechnic Institute of New York University

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