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Since 2015, Amazon has been promoting research projects from all over the world – in areas such as machine learning and IT security – with its Research Award. This year, Prof. Falk Howar from the Department of Computer Science at TU Dortmund University is receiving the award and the associated funding of 45,000 US dollars for his project titled “Scaling Dynamic Symbolic Execution for Java”. A total of 26 researchers from eleven countries were awarded in the most recent round of funding.
Prof. Howar, what is your award-winning project about?
The focus of the research I conduct with my team at TU Dortmund University is on the analysis and protection of autonomous and safety-critical software systems. We are particularly interested in the use of learning and formal methods of analyzing the behavior of these systems. The aim of our work is to test software systems for potential security gaps. In the funded project, we use automated reasoning – in other words, symbolic reasoning based on logic – which is a branch of artificial intelligence. A research tool called “JDart” – a framework for the dynamic, symbolic execution of Java bytecode that we’ve been developing for quite some time – forms the basis of this new project. We are now scaling the tool so that we can use it to test the security of industrial web applications.
What are your analysis tools capable of?
The tools we develop bring formal logic and software systems together. In the case of a web application, for example, we can specify that users are not permitted to write dangerous entries in certain places of the database, as that would be a security breach. So we record logical conditions, then examine the behavior of the programs and generate new test cases. In the end, our tools provide formal evidence that there are no security gaps in the software – or that there are. Unlike machine learning, for example, our tools have to come to definitive conclusions. They do not provide approximations or probabilities. If the tool cannot obtain formal evidence, it will also output this failure as a result. Incidentally, we make our tools freely available so that other groups can continue to work on them.
Is your research also of interest to industry?
So far, industry has mainly relied on human experts who have years of experience and cost a lot of money to find such security gaps in their software. Companies would benefit greatly from automating and professionalizing the analysis and protection of their software. This is something we are researching – our tools are designed to use automatic processes to ensure that software components are free of any errors. This is extremely relevant because companies in the United States already have to pay for significant damages caused by these kinds of security breaches – such as identity theft.
Another focus of our work that is relevant to industry is the security of autonomous systems, such as autonomous driving. We previously collaborated with Volkswagen, researching innovative approaches to safeguarding autonomous driving functions, which we then tested on the prototype of an autonomous lane change assistant.
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Location & approach
The campus of TU Dortmund University is located close to interstate junction Dortmund West, where the Sauerlandlinie A 45 (Frankfurt-Dortmund) crosses the Ruhrschnellweg B 1 / A 40. The best interstate exit to take from A 45 is “Dortmund-Eichlinghofen” (closer to South Campus), and from B 1 / A 40 “Dortmund-Dorstfeld” (closer to North Campus). Signs for the university are located at both exits. Also, there is a new exit before you pass over the B 1-bridge leading into Dortmund.
To get from North Campus to South Campus by car, there is the connection via Vogelpothsweg/Baroper Straße. We recommend you leave your car on one of the parking lots at North Campus and use the H-Bahn (suspended monorail system), which conveniently connects the two campuses.
TU Dortmund University has its own train station (“Dortmund Universität”). From there, suburban trains (S-Bahn) leave for Dortmund main station (“Dortmund Hauptbahnhof”) and Düsseldorf main station via the “Düsseldorf Airport Train Station” (take S-Bahn number 1, which leaves every 15 or 30 minutes). The university is easily reached from Bochum, Essen, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Duisburg.
You can also take the bus or subway train from Dortmund city to the university: From Dortmund main station, you can take any train bound for the Station “Stadtgarten”, usually lines U41, U45, U 47 and U49. At “Stadtgarten” you switch trains and get on line U42 towards “Hombruch”. Look out for the Station “An der Palmweide”. From the bus stop just across the road, busses bound for TU Dortmund University leave every ten minutes (445, 447 and 462). Another option is to take the subway routes U41, U45, U47 and U49 from Dortmund main station to the stop “Dortmund Kampstraße”. From there, take U43 or U44 to the stop “Dortmund Wittener Straße”. Switch to bus line 447 and get off at “Dortmund Universität S”.
The AirportExpress is a fast and convenient means of transport from Dortmund Airport (DTM) to Dortmund Central Station, taking you there in little more than 20 minutes. From Dortmund Central Station, you can continue to the university campus by interurban railway (S-Bahn). A larger range of international flight connections is offered at Düsseldorf Airport (DUS), which is about 60 kilometres away and can be directly reached by S-Bahn from the university station.
The H-Bahn is one of the hallmarks of TU Dortmund University. There are two stations on North Campus. One (“Dortmund Universität S”) is directly located at the suburban train stop, which connects the university directly with the city of Dortmund and the rest of the Ruhr Area. Also from this station, there are connections to the “Technologiepark” and (via South Campus) Eichlinghofen. The other station is located at the dining hall at North Campus and offers a direct connection to South Campus every five minutes.
The facilities of TU Dortmund University are spread over two campuses, the larger Campus North and the smaller Campus South. Additionally, some areas of the university are located in the adjacent “Technologiepark”.