Research Project Seeks to Reduce Computer Vulnerabilities

Laurel Emurian '11
Laurel Emurian '11
If your computer begins to flash neon colors and warning signs, it’s not about to explode, contrary to what the chilly feeling in the pit of your stomach might tell you. It could be a malware or virus that resulted from a buffer overflow – a problem that occurs when a program stores data outside the memory the programmer set aside for it. A buffer overflow won’t kill the computer, but it will make it more vulnerable to hackers.

Laurel Emurian ’11 is working with Associate Professor of Computer Science Mark Bailey this summer looking at programs that have such vulnerabilities. She and Bailey will see what they can do to correct flaws in the system. A lot of possible solutions to buffer overflows cause programs to have longer runtimes. They are viable solutions, but aren't as widely accepted because users and programmers are more accustomed to faster code. Therefore, they will need to compare the run time of the original program to the run time of the fixed program to determine what the run time for the security code should be. This will give them insight into what precautions programmers should take in order to make software safe and reliable.

She will work on writing the program that she can use to compare the two run times. Finding the true run time of a program can be challenging, so usually computer scientists take an average of collected runs. Emurian has been using statistics to predict the run time of the program and come up with an accurate way of timing. She will use the results to develop a table of how many times a program should be run to get a number accurate enough that it can be successfully compared to a program of a similar runtime.

Emurian says she enjoys working on research over the summer because she can work independently while her project advisor nudges her in the right direction.

“We talk things out if I get stuck,” she said regarding Bailey. “I enjoyed working with him last summer.”

When she was in seventh grade, Emurian liked to create her own Web sites with wild, multicolored graphics. The budding designer went on to take her first computer science class at Hamilton, and since then, she has been on a track that she hopes will eventually lead to a doctorate in computer science. She thinks that she might enjoy being a professor someday. In addition to the perpetual programming she does in the Ferry Building, Emurian participates in Hogwarts at Hamilton and is one of the student directors of HAVOC (Hamilton Association for Volunteering, Outreach, and Charity).
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