Professor receives $3.6 million grant to support cybersecurity retrofitting

Erin Cassidy Hendrick
January 24, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Dinghao Wu, associate professor in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), has been awarded a $3.6 million grant from the Office of Naval Research to support reverse engineering software and cybersecurity retrofitting.

An expansion of his previous research into binary code analysis funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Office of Naval Research (ONR), Wu said of the new grant, “We’ll work on technologies with a new angle and direction.”

Across all sectors and industry, including the government and military, legacy software remains critically important, but increasingly difficult, to maintain.

“Software running today could have been written 30 years ago,” Wu said. “But today, you need modern security mechanisms added that weren’t available then.”

Wu proposes implementing these changes on the binary code level of a program, which has traditionally been inconvenient and challenging.

By creating a tool that can use reverse engineering to edit the binary code, the most basic building blocks of programming using ones and zeros, it allows the legacy software to be updated in a more efficient way, as some legacy systems do not even have source code or documentations kept.

“This research can have an impact on the software engineering process,” Wu said. “I also hope that this research brings attention so when others are building new software, they will have better plans for future software maintenance and retrofitting.”

These industry shifts would ensure future software can have the latest cybersecurity measures implemented in the future.

A testament to his prototype, two teams in the final round of the Cyber Grand Challenge, the world's first all-machine hacking tournament sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), have already adopted the technology built by Wu’s team, including Shuai Wang, a doctoral student and main developer of the prototype.

“I’m very proud of this because that was just my preliminary results,” Wu said. “In the future, we’ll be able to push the line even further.”

Last Updated January 30, 2018