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CICS Professor Yuriy Brun Receives SEAMS 2020 Most Influential Paper Award

Yuriy Brun, Nenad Medvidović (photo from 2009)

Yuriy Brun, an associate professor at the College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) at UMass Amherst, has been selected to receive the Most Influential Paper Award at the 15th International Symposium on Software Engineering for Adaptive and Self-Managing Systems (SEAMS 2020). The award recognizes his 2007 paper, “An Architectural Style for Solving Computationally Intensive Problems on Large Networks,” co-authored with Nenad Medvidović. The award recognizes work published at least ten years prior that has had substantial impact in industry or academia.

The paper, written while Brun was a doctoral student at the University of Southern California (USC), introduced sTile, a new method for distributing computation onto the cloud that used a design inspired by the interaction of molecules in a solution. sTile’s virtual molecules compute mathematical functions, interacting with each other in the fashion of cellular automata, which proved well-suited to take advantage of the cloud’s parallel computing resources for computationally intensive problems.

sTile’s approach brought two key advantages to distributed computation. First, unlike traditional methods, systems that use sTile are discreet: they preserve the confidentiality of the data involved in the computation. In other words, the computers executing the computation cannot, individually, figure out the underlying data being processed. This provides an important privacy property for users who want to use the cloud’s computational power, but are handling sensitive data, such as medical records or proprietary data. Second, like many biological systems, sTile-based distributions are highly fault-tolerant: if nodes go offline—or even if some nodes are hijacked with malicious code—the system will still work and will still preserve data confidentiality.

Brun and Medvidović’s 2007 paper marked the beginning of a line of research into establishing a set of system properties that can be achieved by distribution. Traditionally, cloud-based systems provided scalability and availability, but sTile opened the door to such systems also exhibiting privacy and fault-tolerance specifically because of their distributed nature.

Brun and Medvidović later continued this line of research with their papers, “Keeping Data Private while Computing in the Cloud,” published in the IEEE International Conference on Cloud Computing in 2012, and “Entrusting Private Computation and Data to Untrusted Networks,” published in IEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing in 2013. These papers proved mathematical limits on the data confidentiality guarantees, including what fraction of the cloud a malicious adversary must compromise to gain access to the data, and empirically measured the efficiency cost of providing such data confidentiality. Their work has had an impact on researchers developing numerous systems, including distributed authentication protocols, permissioned blockchains, and runtime self-adaptive systems.

Brun’s current research focuses on software engineering and systems security, creating techniques to automate improvements in system quality, reliability, privacy, and performance. Recently, his team introduced the idea of software fairness and created the first tools to help build software that doesn’t discriminate. Brun has received numerous awards and recognitions, including an NSF CAREER award in 2015 and the IEEE TCSC Young Achiever in Scalable Computing Award in 2013. In 2019, he was elected an ACM Distinguished Member. Brun joined the CICS faculty at UMass Amherst in 2012, after working as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington. He received his PhD in computer science from USC in 2008.