University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering

Security and infrastructure

Modern society relies on a vast number
of critical technological infrastructures that include, among many others, the power grid, various communication networks, public health systems, transportation systems, identity and public safety networks, and online banking transactions. 

Researchers from across electrical and computer engineering work to ensuring these networks operate securely, robustly and efficiently. Perhaps surprisingly, even understanding the operating characteristics of these human-designed and engineering systems can be extremely challenging.  Sample challenges include modeling and understanding how best to operate and upgrade the power grid, developing the understanding required for the design of future generations of wireless and optical transport networks, and understanding
and improving the fundamental security
of biometric and cryptosystems.



Biometric encryption guards your electronic identity


Stark Draper

Stark Draper

For Assistant Professor Stark Draper, identity theft means much more than a lost credit card number. Draper is developing a novel type of encryption for biometric data — such information as fingerprint and iris scans, DNA profiles and the like. His research may add an extra layer of protection to your identity.


Now, for example, if your credit card information is stolen or the credit card company’s database is broken into, the company simply issues a new card with a new number. “But since you’ve only got ten fingers, if that happens to your fingerprint, you’ve got a problem,” says Draper.


He studies a type of data encryption that prevents burglars from retrieving original biometrics from the data stored in a database or security program, while allowing the legitimate owner of the biometric data to verify his or her identity.


For example, a user could set up a fingerprint-scan lock on his or her computer. Using Draper’s “secure biometrics” approach, the computer would be able to verify the user’s fingerprint based
on stored data. “But if someone broke into your computer and looked at the data stored there,
they couldn’t replicate your fingerprint,” says Draper. “That’s different from how current biometric systems work. Right now they just store your biometric in a recognizable form.”


The underlying ideas have applications beyond biometrics. The ideas also can be used in wireless ad-hoc networks to derive encryption keys from natural phenomena in an eavesdropper-proof manner, and even form the basis for reliable communication across the backbone of the Internet.