ECE: Electrical & Computer Engineering
ECE News

Confining Data to a Physical Space

Jules White

Jules White

In a breakthrough that could aid spies, keepers of medical records, and parents who want to prevent their kids from "sexting," a team of Virginia Tech researchers has created software to remotely put smart phones under lockdown. The phones are given permission to access sensitive data while in a particular room, but when the devices leave the room, the data is completely wiped.

“This level of complexity and security, nobody else has,” says Jules White, ECE assistant professor. “There are commercial products that do limited versions of these things, but nothing that allows for automated wiping and complete control of settings and apps on smart phones and tablets.”

A general, for example, could access secret intelligence while visiting a secure government facility without fear that his or her smart phone or tablet computer might later be lost or stolen, White said. "This puts physical boundaries around information in cyberspace.”

Medical caregivers could review patient information during a doctor visit, but – safeguarding patient privacy – doctors or nurses couldn’t walk out of the examination room with the patient’s records.

The software also enables central control of phone features such as preventing a smart phone’s camera or email from working.

White and his team, in research underwritten by Virginia Tech Applied Research Corporation, modified Google’s Android operating system to create the security features.

Graduate students working on the project are Paul N. Miranda of Columbia, S.C., and Danny Guymon of Fredericksburg, Va., who are both working on master’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering; and Hamilton Turner of Nashville, who is working on a Ph.D. degree.

--Steven Mackay