University of New Orleans computer science professor James Wagner will spend his summer working with the U.S. Navy on a data privacy and security project. Wagner has been awarded a Summer Research Fellowship by the Office of Naval Research, which pairs faculty members with naval research mentors. The fellowship offers an opportunity to conduct full-time research of mutual interest to faculty members and to the Navy.
Wagner will join a project at the Naval Research Laboratory where he will leverage his background in database security and data privacy to capture the lineage of data within a system as it moves between disk and memory and undergoes transformations in memory. This project will work toward the Department of Defense’s broader agenda to ensure continuous, real-time, policy-based monitoring of database activities.
“Current query monitoring tools can collect data transactions and activity across the network. Then using predefined security policies, administrators can be alerted when sensitive data is accessed,” Wagner said. “However, it is possible for an attacker to write obfuscated queries that appear to be harmless to such monitoring tools but they, in fact, pose a security risk.
“Our goal this summer is to build a more trusted approach to query monitoring; we will look at how queries are processed at a low level. Rather than monitor what comes into and out of the system, we will monitor how the data is processed. Understanding how the data moves throughout different memory regions provides a clear understanding of what a query was actually doing. While the input query may be designed to trick monitoring, the low-level data processing cannot be fooled.”
Wagner, who earned his Ph.D. in computer science from DePaul University, has been an assistant professor of computer science at the University of New Orleans since 2020. His research interests include database security and digital forensics. In particular, he studies attack scenarios involving insider threats. In 2022, he was awarded a three-year, $158,000 research grant from the Louisiana Board of Regents.
The 10-week fellowship starts June 1st and includes a $16,500 stipend.
“We are very proud of James for being awarded the prestigious ONR Summer Research Fellowship,” said Mahdi Abdelguerfi, professor and chair of the computer science department. “James is the second junior faculty member in our department awarded an ONR Summer Fellowship over the last three years. The University of New Orleans already has strong ties with NRL, and James’ selection into the program further strengthens our instructional and research partnership.”