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Cybercrime Stopper: An Undergraduate’s Project Protects Against Internet Theft

January 19th, 2018


Like much of humanity, Henry Birge-Lee simply wanted to visit YouTube. Yet his high school  in Los Angeles had blocked classroom computers from visiting the site on the grounds that it posed a non-educational distraction — a hardly baseless accusation, as evidenced by YouTube’s millions of cat videos.

The experience got Birge-Lee interested in how network security manages the complex, occasionally treacherous interface between computers and the internet. It turned out he had a knack for the craft. His high school computer science team went on to win a national championship at CyberPatriot, a security competition held by an aerospace education nonprofit.

Now as an undergraduate student at Princeton, Birge-Lee has continued his streak. He is part of a research team that has pioneered a protection against potential cyberattacks that a major internet security firm has already begun rolling out.

The project focuses on “digital certificates.” These electronic documents allow for secure, private communications between a user’s computer and an online site. Cybercriminals have methods for obtaining fake certificates, however, that trick users into sharing sensitive information. In their project, Birge-Lee and colleagues demonstrated a new and harder-to-detect form of this subterfuge; and then they demonstrated new countermeasures to protect against it.

To learn more about Birge-Lee's research, head here.

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