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Research Spotlight on NSF CAREER Awardee Spiridon Bakiras

March 6, 2012 | Awards, Faculty, Uncategorized

Dr. Spiridon Bakiras in his office at John Jay College

Spiridon Bakiras, Associate Professor of Computer Science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and member of the doctoral faculty at the CUNY Graduate Center, received a $489,161 NSF CAREER Award aimed at supporting his early-career research in increasing security and privacy in modern technology.

Dr. Bakiras doesn’t work in a traditional lab.  Instead, he spends most of his time on his computer tackling the privacy and security issues that we encounter everyday on our phones, tablets, and computers.  In part, his research focuses on the recent boom in location-based services (LBS) – the feature we use when we are getting directions or looking for a near-by restaurant.  Since its rise in popularity, LBS has raised a lot of questions about information security and the trustworthiness of online services.  Individuals must disclose their exact geographic location to enable these services, which makes consumers vulnerable to the common practice of data outsourcing.

Internet searching is also part of Dr. Bakiras’s research. Web queries often reveal information about our beliefs, habits, health, or interests, and in the past, the privacy of these searches has been compromised. As Dr. Bakiras recalls, a 2006 AOL privacy scandal revealed that the web searches of AOL account users had been released to the public without sufficient anonymization.  Although the identifying markers were removed, the queries themselves contained information that was then used by a New York Times reporter to retrieve the complete search history and location of one of the account users.

Ultimately, Dr. Bakiras’s research will be useful for promoting an environment in which consumers have more control over information disclosure.  His work could allow computer users to submit their queries in an encrypted format.  In this scenario, the computer encodes the query, sends it out to search the web, and returns with an encrypted answer that only the user’s computer can decipher.

Dr. Bakiras has always been attracted to the sciences.  “In Greece, you have to decide what you want to do before you go to school,” he says, explaining that the Greek education system sets students on different educational and testing trajectories based on their career decisions.  “I applied to the program of Electrical and Computer Engineering.  Computers were just starting out then and I was good at math and science.  It was really the only choice for me,” he explains.

Following his graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the National Technical University of Athens, Dr. Bakiras moved to England where he received his Master’s degree in Telematics from the University of Surrey.  He planned to complete his mandatory military service in Greece and then find a job.  After two years, however, this no longer appealed to him.  “I changed my mind.  I didn’t want to just get a job.”  What he wanted was a career with more freedom.

Having made the decision to pursue his doctoral degree, he enrolled in the Electrical Engineering program at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Just a year into his program Dr. Bakiras’s mentor decided to return to China, and Dr. Bakiras followed him to the University of Hong Kong where he completed his research and lab work.  After receiving his doctorate, he spent the next few years at the University of Hong Kong as a Research Assistant Professor.

Now an Associate Professor at John Jay College and halfway through his NSF Career Award period, Dr. Bakiras has plenty of ideas for new projects that will build on his previous research and newly released technologies.  Most recently, he has been exploring privacy and security issues in cloud computing and social networking applications.  The goal, as always, is to develop the scientific foundation for technological security.