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February 7, 2016

Cyber Security Experts Join Cornell Tech Faculty

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Cornell Tech has added four cyber security specialists to its Department of Computer Science, according to the University.

The new professors’ collective work “spans data encryption, cryptography, cryptocurrency, machine-learning and Internet of Things privacy and security,” according to a press release.

One new addition, Prof. Vitaly Shmatikov, computer science, emphasized that his research in security focuses on approaching problems from unusual angles.

“It is very exciting when I manage to find a fresh approach that lets us see a particular security or privacy problem in a new light,” Shmatikov said. “This includes finding new types of vulnerabilities, but also deeper understanding of what security and privacy should mean in the face of constantly emerging new threats.”

Prof. Thomas Ristenpart, computer science, also said his research focuses on the issue of security in the 21st century.

“I work on keeping information secure, both when it’s being communicated over the Internet and when it’s being stored,” Ristenpart said. “This involves developing new encryption methods, as the ones we have are very often not as helpful as we’d like, either because of functionality problems, government sabotage or other subtle vulnerabilities.”

Despite his achievements in the field, Ristenpart said he was not always on track to become a leading computer scientist. He said his decision to pursue graduate school was partially motivated by a passion much less academic than cryptography — frisbee.

“I played a lot of ultimate frisbee in college and going to graduate school meant I could keep playing competitively for another year or two,” Ristenpart said. It wasn’t until his first semester of graduate study that he said he became passionate about research.

Both Ristenpart and Shmatikov expressed excitement about being a part of Cornell Tech’s team.

“I feel that this is a unique opportunity to create a new type of university, something that has not happened in America in at least 100 years,” Shmatikov said.

Ristenpart added that he believes Cornell Tech has the potential to break the mold of traditional research universities.

“Tech is a brand new university campus, a startup where we get to not only experiment within our disciplines but also on the idea of what it should mean to be a university in the information age,” Ristenpart said.

Ristenpart spoke highly of the strong base provided by the University’s main campus in Ithaca.

“I’m a member of the computer science department, and the security research group spans across both campuses, providing a density of expertise that is hard — if not impossible — to find elsewhere,” he said. “We wouldn’t be able to do a good job on the challenge of building up Cornell Tech without the support and creative ideas coming out of Ithaca.”

Ristenpart said that he is looking forward to “the first Cornell Tech ‘unicorn’ [a startup valued at over one billion dollars], and the realization that other universities have started copying some of our ideas on education in the 21st century,” he said.

“Oh, and confirmation that there will be a good gym on the new campus,” Ristenpart added.

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