Langbort earns CAREER Award; co-directs new IT-based Center

3/2/2012 3:20:00 PM

Cedric Langbort’s research efforts can be compared to a very high-tech game of hide and seek. His studies on effects of information cloaking as a means of defense against potential cyber-attacks have earned Langbort a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) Award.

Wearing a different hat, as co-director for the new Center for People and Infrastructures, Langbort wants to help consumers become more aware of the underlying workings of electronic systems used in everyday life.
“In one case, I’m making information visible, and in another, I’m hiding it,” Langbort said.

An assistant professor in aerospace engineering, Langbort’s CAREER Award project, “A Dynamic Game Theoretic Approach to Cyber-security of Controlled Systems,” involves designing control algorithms that manage the flow of information made available to a potential hacker. The NSF award provides Langbort with $400,000 over five years to pursue his research.

Cedric Langbort
Cedric Langbort
“I try to mitigate in the best possible way any attacks on the system. It’s a game theory approach in which I look at a number of different scenarios and strategic intent,” Langbort said. “Even if (a hacker) modifies the algorithm, the control logic itself should be resilient enough to not go out of balance.”
The new Center for People and Infrastructures (CPI) also studies cyberspace patterns, but in a different way.

“More systems are becoming smart, such as smart meters that monitor consumption in the power grid," he explained. "In some ways, the model that those systems end up building for their users based on this information can be useful, but it also has them pigeonholed, trying to make the users behave according to the systems’ assumptions.”
For example, when an individual decides to do an online search, Google will suggest possible sites to be examined based on trends the system has gathered about the person from past searches.

“The suggestions made to you might not be the same suggestions made to another person searching for the same topic” Langbort maintained. By doing this, he said, systems “put us in our own little bubble; they limit our choices and potentially isolate us from other points of view.”
Langbort and his colleagues in the CPI aim to help consumers become aware that their information is being collected and possibly being used to manipulate them.

“We feel that users need to know that this is going on and should have a decision in whether they want it to go on or not,” he said. "We would like you to know, at least, who the system thinks you are, so to speak."
Christian Sandvig (media and cinema studies) is CPI's co-director and founder. In addition to Langbort, other CPI co-directors include Sally Jackson (communication), Kevin Hamilton (art and design), whose specialties are arts and media/new media, and Karrie Karahalios (computer science), who concentrates on human/computer interactions.The CPI is currently funded by the Department of Aerospace Engineering, Department of Computer Science, the Coordinated Science Laboratory, and the College of Media at Illinois.

Contact: Cedric Langbort, Department of Aerospace Engineering, 217/265-6236.

Writer: Susan Mumm, editor, Department of Aerospace Engineering, 217/244-5382.

If you have any questions about the College of Engineering, or other story ideas, contact Rick Kubetz, editor, Engineering Communications Office, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 217/244-7716.