A UCF engineering team that specializes in keeping computer hardware safe from malicious attacks is among the two best in the nation, continuing UCF’s national bragging rights in computer security.

The UCF Hardware Security Team took second place in November’s Embedded Security Challenge of the 11th annual Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW) Conference in New York, featuring the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of computer security education challenges. The contest pitted the best-of-the-best students against malicious hardware attacks.

Earlier this year, UCF’s Cyber Defense Competition Team won Raytheon’s national contest that decided the country’s best defenders against malicious attacks to software applications.

UCF Hardware Security Team members include electrical engineering doctoral student Yu Bi, and computer engineering doctoral students Dean Sullivan and Kaveh Shamsi. Sullivan is a UCF alumnus, with a 2013 bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. Their co-advisors are Jiann-Shiun Yuan, professor, and Yier Jin, assistant professor, of UCF’s electrical and computer engineering program.

The competition focused on emerging technologies. UCF’s project was titled, “Silicon Nanowire FETs in Hardware Security Applications.” (FET stands for field effect transistor.)

The competition (won by the University of South Florida) began several months ago with 40 teams; 10 were selected for the final onsite competition. There, teams explained their innovative research results and fielded questions from industry-expert judges, who had already reviewed their projects.

Hardware security is related to integrated circuit design against reverse engineering, hardware Trojan attack, tamper detection and intellectual property theft, among other threats. The technologies impact hardware. By contrast, cyber security defends threats to software. The technologies work in concert. Also notably, while this competition involved months of research and scrutiny, UCF’s hardware security victory followed intense testing to devise impromptu solutions.

Echoing the sentiments of his teammates, Bi was excited about the outcome as well as his industry future.

“I feel happy and satisfied. It was great for me to talk to them [industry expert judges] and see what the industry needs,” Bi said.

According to Jin, these students are in the middle of a security area that will only grow with time.

“This is a very hot topic. Working in this area is really, really important because there are not many experts or professionals,” Jin said. “Companies are all looking for hardware security experts. The purpose of this lab is to cultivate more qualified students to fill this requirement.”

In all, there are eight UCF students specializing in hardware security, including undergraduates and graduates. Each student, Jin adds, has a goal of being the best.

“These competitions are not the reason for our work. They are nice opportunities to meet other students and to meet people in the industry. But our purpose is to do the best work and to publish the best papers.”