NSF Awards Computer Science Professor with Prestigious Early Career Award



By Casey Moffitt
Kyle Hale

A $632,000 CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation will allow Kyle Hale, assistant professor of computer science at Illinois Institute of Technology, to pursue a lighter-weight, high-performance, and secure software framework that runs on shared computing infrastructures, such as cloud and serverless computing.

“Colony: A Framework for Bespoke Virtual Execution Contexts” questions the idea that hardware virtualization is slow and impractical. The model, Colony, will reduce start-up times for cloud computing by eliminating the need to build a virtual machine on the cloud by developing a series of functions to trigger a secure application on the cloud.

“The problem is current infrastructure is built on legacy software stacks, which are tweaked to allow this to happen,” Hale says. “They are not designed to perform this function.”

Colony will improve performance in running isolated code in the cloud without compromising security or creating an additional burden on programmers.

By designing new isolation mechanisms using novel operating system, compiler, programming language, and virtualization technologies, Colony will help produce a more robust cloud computing infrastructure that is less susceptible to attack, less likely to leak sensitive user data, and more productive for programmers. This should result in reduced economic losses from compromised infrastructure, a strengthened national security, and increased privacy for the broader public that is using cloud services.

With Colony, cloud or serverless computing users will be able to establish a secure application in a shared environment. A series of functions that are established, and secured, in other databases or third-party libraries will seek the data needed to run the application and automatically trigger it to run after it finds and sends the data.

This synthesized software environment will reduce start-up costs, increase performance, and formally explore security measures to make cloud and serverless computing more useable.

Hale says exploring the security aspects of Colony is key. When using a cloud environment, the user doesn’t know who else’s code is running or for what purposes.

“Securing the application will make it more difficult to interact with other code,” Hale says. “Current measures often trade security for performance.”

The functions, too, need to be secured.

“If you’re writing a Python or JavaScript app, you’re collecting data from a lot of third party libraries, which are known to have vulnerabilities,” Hale says. “So if you’re using 20 or 30 different libraries, there’s not a small chance that at least one of them is vulnerable.”

CAREER: The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of early career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education, and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. 

Disclaimer: “Research reported in this publication is supported by the National Science Foundation under Award Number 2230757. This content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Science Foundation.”

Photo: Kyle Hale (provided)