Robert Karam, Srinivas Katkoori, and Mozaffari Kermani Awarded $500,000 NSF Secure & Trustworthy Cyberspace Education Grant

May 6, 2020

Set Up

Example of an electromagnetic side channel attack on a commercial FPGA development board, one of the ten labs that will be part of the hands-on Secure Hardware Design course at USF.

CSE faculty Robert Karam (PI), Srinivas Katkoori (Co-PI), and Mehran Mozaffari Kermani (Co-PI) have been awarded a $500,000 NSF Secure & Trustworthy Cyberspace Education grant for their project SaTC: EDU: Improving Student Learning through Competitive Embedded System
Security Challenges. The three-year project is aimed at developing a new hands-on hardware
security lab course in Computer Science and Engineering at USF. The project will also support
conducting education research into whether gamification of a hardware lab course can improve
student engagement and success in the lab.

Computers touch on nearly every aspect of modern life, from automotive and healthcare, to
infrastructure and defense. The recent uptick in cybercrime has highlighted the increased need
and demand for cybersecurity professionals for all aspects of computing - from software, to
networking, and even the hardware itself. New courses are needed to augment existing computer science and engineering programs and provide both theoretical and practical, hands-
on security experience for students in these fields. Moreover, new techniques for effective cybersecurity education are needed to improve student learning in this crucial area. The
objective of this project is to develop a hardware security lab course leveraging low-cost, open-
source hardware and software, to enable more universities to integrate a hands-on hardware
security course into their programs. The course will be used to test the effect of integrating
game mechanics into hardware security education through an advanced curriculum of team-
based, hands-on laboratory experiments and security challenges. This course will be suitable for senior undergraduate and graduate students in computer engineering. Course materials will be made freely available, and results of this research will be disseminated widely by establishing new workshops and training seminars, and an annual “Hardware Capture the Flag” competition to encourage continuous improvement in this critical area.

The course modules are planned to cover a wide-range of topics related to hardware security,
including physical and cross-layer security. The impact of gamification on student learning will
be tested by integrating game mechanics and competitions into selected labs, including race-
against-the-clock, point scoring / leaderboard systems, red team / blue team, and collaborative
analysis and learning. By integrating game-based learning in the proposed course, we strive to
investigate novel approaches to hardware education with a focus on security, that may be
replicated in other computer science and engineering departments to bolster student engagement and learning.