Nik Unger and Ahmed Alquraan win the 2019 Huawei Prize for Best Research Paper

Monday, April 1, 2019

Computer science PhD candidates Ahmed Alquraan and Nik Unger have each received one of the six 2019 Huawei Prizes for Best Research Paper by a Mathematics Graduate Student. The award recognizes the impact of the respective student’s research and each comes with a prize of $4,000.

The 2019 Huawei Prize for Best Research Paper by a Mathematics Graduate Student is made possible by the generous support from Huawei.

About Ahmed Alquraan’s research

Ahmed Alquraan photoAlquraan’s paper, An Analysis of Network-Partitioning Failures in Cloud Systems, presents an in-depth study of network partitioning failures in modern distributed systems. This paper is the first to highlight the catastrophic impact of network faults on modern systems and the first to identify a special category of network partitioning called partial partitions, where some nodes cannot communicate to some nodes, but the rest of the cluster can communicate with the two disconnected nodes. The paper concludes with a number of recommendations that will directly affect the design of future distributed systems and change current network maintenance practices.

“Over the course of one year, Ahmed undertook a daunting task of dissecting 25 modern systems,” said his supervisor, Professor Samer Al-Kiswany. “He conducted the most comprehensive and in-depth study of network-partitioning failures that have been reported in the last five years.”

This work led to the development of the Network Partitioning Testing (NEAT) framework, which was released as open source software.

Presented last year at the USENIX Symposium on Operating Systems Design and Implementation (OSDI), it is already being used in graduate-level courses at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Johns Hopkins University, and at the University of Waterloo. It has been featured on ACM Tech News and the findings are discussed on popular blogs.

“I would like to take the opportunity to express my sincere thanks for choosing me for this award,” said Alquraan. “I really appreciate your efforts and support.

About Nik Unger’s research

Unger’s paper, Improved Strongly Deniable Authenticated Key Exchanges for Secure Messaging, focuses on two-party person-to-person communication where both parties don’t have to be online at the same time.

Unger developed new schemes that allow two machines to establish a shared secret over an insecure connection, securely authenticating the two machines so no one can eavesdrop on the conversation, and it allows the two parties to plausibly deny ever having had the conversation. Both mobile messaging and email applications can make use of these schemes that are thousands of times more efficient than previous schemes Unger and colleagues developed, making it more secure and practical for smartphone use.

“This work has already seen adoption outside of academia. Version 4 of the Off-the-Record Messaging (OTR) protocol, which uses the protocols presented in Nik’s paper, will be available in software that allows users to send end-to-end encrypted messages, which prevents mass surveillance,” said Professor Ian Goldberg, Unger’s supervisor.

Unger’s paper appeared in the January 2018 issue of the journal Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies or PoPETs, the top publication venue for the study of privacy-enhancing technologies, and it was a runner-up for the 2018 Caspar Bowden Award for Outstanding Research in Privacy Enhancing Technologies.

Nik Unger's poster

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