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Security researchers leading way in biometrics, insider threats, encryption and virtualization

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Even on the sprawling 52-inch high-definition screen, the black and white image is grainy, denying observers anything that resembles usable intelligence. The man's face, taken from surveillance footage, is obscured by a hood and poorly lit; his profile is barely visible. But the confident smirk on Marios Savvides' face tells a different story. So does the sure-handed urgency with which he rhythmically taps out commands on his keyboard.

Within an instant the man's face, so barely distinguishable from the static, snowy image on the screen, begins to churn. Underneath, algorithms developed inside Savvides' biometrics lab at Carnegie Mellon University's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department whirr and whizz. Soon the outcome is there: A three-dimensional model of the subject's face that rotates at the whim of a mouse click. The animated model is a golden image, one that can be compared, for example, to images of known terrorists stored in a database.

This is typical of the security brainpower percolating on the CMU campus, in particular at CyLab, the university's cybersecurity research wing. While the grad students, faculty and researchers at CyLab may not be tackling the latest Trojan to threaten networks or phishing scam taking aim at personally identifiable information, they are concentrating on facial and iris recognition software, or they're modeling what a disgruntled insider might look like, developing simple key exchange, or they're examining

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ways to preserve the sanctity of virtual computing environments.

It's a think tank addressing tomorrow's information security concerns, a brainy conglomerate set against the brawny landscape that is the city of Pittsburgh.

This was first published in November 2008

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