University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory foto

Student Project Suggestions – Ross Anderson

Most of the chapters of my book have suggestions for further research at the end, some of which might make decent student projects.

Further ideas below.

Solar Power Measurement

The National Grid, which is responsible for dispatching electricity in the UK, faces occasional instability in the distribution network because of the difficulty of measuring generated solar power and forecasting it in the short term. While Britain has a large network of weather stations with equipment to measure rainfall, wind speed, temperature and air pressure, nobody thought that sunshine would be important too. As a result, power forecasts can be out by more than 2GW on sunny weekends. In this project, your goal is to develop an app that measures sunlight and reports it to a server every five minutes. The server will display a real-time sunshine map. Mobile phones are already aware of ambient illumination, which they use to modulate screen brightness, but you will have to figure out whether the phone user is indoors or out, whether the phone is facing the sky or occluded by someone's pocket, and what parts of this data cleaning to do in the phone or the server. Deployment might involve volunteers wanting to reduce carbon emissions, or it might be bundled with an app used by a firm (such as a delivery company) that might sell sunlight data as a sideline. Phone-based measurements might be less accurate than installing solar cells on all weather stations, but they should be cheaper, faster to deploy, and usable anywhere in the world.

Covert Batnet

Opportunistic networks have been used in the past to build censorship resistant messaging applications. In some locations, censors may monitor or block digital traffic aggressively, and bluetooth might not be available because of jamming. In this project, your goal is to explore the use of ultrasonic communication as an alternative. If modern smartphones can emit and collect sounds in the frequency range 17-24KHz, which are beyond human auditory perception, is it possible to use this capability to create an ad-hoc network that might, for example, enable covert communication between people organising a strike or demonstration? Once you have a prototype working, and understand the usable parameters of such communications you might consider what countermeasures the authorities might employ, and therefore what it might mean for a batnet to be "secure".

Imaging forensics

Jeff Yan has introduced a technique called Differential Imaging Forensics, but it is unclear how much information can be got from it. The project will involve evaluating the per-colour entropy of shadows and evaluating the performance of the technique against multi-frame shots found e.g. on youtube and iphone life photos. The objective is to discover whether it is possible to do behind-the-camera scene reconstruction based on barely imperceptible shadows.

Hardware trojan detection

There is a lot of interest in whether you can detect a hardware Trojan that a manufacturer has been ordered to insert by its government. In this project your task is to use one of the Lab teaching boards to create a CPU with such a Trojan, designed to signal out the contents of a certain memory location (that might contain, for example, a target cryptographic key) by modulating the device's power consumption using a secret pseudonoise sequence. You then measure whether the extra noise can be detected using standard testing techniques by someone who does not know the secret key, and whether the target can be extracted by someone who does. (For the former, see for example papers no. 63, 94 and 126 from here.)

Contact details

University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory
JJ Thomson Avenue
Cambridge CB3 0FD, England

Tel: +44 1223 33 47 33
Fax: +44 1223 33 46 78