"My computer architecture research intersects with security"
EPFL student Atri Bhattacharyya has won a prestigious Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship Europe for research in the fields of AI and cybersecurity.
Atri Bhattacharyya has always been interested in computer architectural security, stemming from his love for computer architecture, along with the realization that architectural features strongly affect the security guarantees for large software codebases.
He is one of only four PhD students from across Europe to have won a USD 40,000 Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship 2023, in a program that rewards researchers in the fields of artificial intelligence and cyber security, mentoring some of the most innovative engineering and computer science students on the continent.
Bhattacharyya started his Masters at EPFL in 2016, and is currently working towards his PhD in the HexHive Laboratory, part of the School of Computer and Communication Sciences, where his research focuses on secure software systems based on secure processor architectures.
“Fundamentally, modern processors retain architectural elements which originated in the early days of computing, whereas the computing landscape has changed tremendously especially vis-a-vis security. Consequently, the isolation mechanisms and abstractions reflect the coarse-grained separation required when a small number of individual users and programs shared a machine,” he explained.
“In contrast, a modern browser regularly runs untrusted, and possibly malicious or buggy, code from thousands of web pages, scripts import code from hundreds of libraries, and even the OS kernel includes hundreds of external code modules. With the ubiquity of untrusted code, finer-grained and higher-performance isolation mechanisms are required to prevent unauthorised access to shared resources and data,” Bhattacharyya continued.
He believes the next frontier of security revolves around compartmentalization and his Qualcomm Innovation Fellowship recognizes the need for compartmentalization as a defense in both hardware and software.
Bhattacharyya is working on SecureCells, an attempt to revolutionize the way computer systems manage and protect their memory, offering enhanced security for a wide range of programs, including those used on mobile devices, desktop computers, and servers. With minimal performance overhead, SecureCells ensures the safety of critical programs in today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape.
“The key challenge in the longer term will be to reconcile the often-conflicting demands for improved performance and security and this will revolve around defining secure policies for compartmentalization, along with developing the necessary hardware and ecosystems to securely and support finely compartmentalized programs,” he said.
Bhattacharyya envisions a future where the security and architecture communities share a common vision for a future with faster, yet more secure, processors to support society’s ever-growing digital needs. Through carefully architecting and guiding the long-term evolution of processors, he believes it is possible to eliminate many of the perceived trade-offs in this space. “Given fast and fine-grained mechanisms, we can enforce strong security policies on top. This allows us to guarantee tight security bounds and protect against attacks, enforcing the principle of least privileges.”
“It's a great honor to win the Qualcomm Fellowship 2023 and my goal in the next decade is to guide processor development towards increased security-conscious designs through architectural innovation. This fellowship is helping to support this ambition!”