Work by ECE alum Jake Perazzone ’17G ’20 PhD a potential breakthrough in wireless communication security
“It’s not often that a PhD student is awarded a patent before he graduates,” says Rick Blum, Lehigh’s Robert W. Wieseman Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
For Jake Perazzone ’17G ’20 PhD, the accomplishment—marking a potential breakthrough in wireless communication security—came in early August, exactly a day before his dissertation defense as a doctoral candidate in electrical and electronics engineering.
“Being able to talk about my practical research at [the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory] and my experience in going through the patent process helped me defend my PhD case,” says Perazzone. “I could show that I turned theory into practice.”
Blum connected Perazzone with the ARL lab in 2015, recommending him for an internship at the facility before he started his graduate studies at Lehigh. He interned at the lab each year during his PhD studies, often supported by the Army Research Office. Today, Perazzone is an electronics engineer at the lab, helping to develop cutting-edge technology.
During his graduate studies, working alongside Blum and Army researchers Paul Yu and Brian Sadler, Perazzone proposed a streamlined model for digital security.
A secure wireless communication traditionally requires authentication, a guarantee of the transmitter’s identity; covertness, a guarantee that the message remains unknown to outside parties and secrecy, a guarantee that no third-party eavesdropper could decode the message. Typically, these are handled separately through methods such as encryption.
Perazzone and his team have learned to combine these two aspects of security. Through minor perturbations in a transmission’s physical waveform, a transmitter and a sender can ensure that a given transmission is both legitimate and private. A set of “signal keys”—distinct disturbances previously agreed upon between the transmitter and the receiver—determines if the message is secure.
The result is a streamlined system that’s faster and less susceptible to eavesdropping.
Their novel process can provide security by itself, or be added to existing methods of security, and has potential applications in both military and civilian wireless communication technology, according to Perazzone and Blum, from the most high-stakes of field transmissions to the mere remote preheating of a smart oven.
The research and development grew out of one of Yu’s previous patents. Perazzone first published his work in IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security in 2018. Soon, however, Sadler told him that his idea was potentially impactful enough to warrant a patent.
The patent process involved rewrites of the group’s initial journal paper. Perazzone says the research lab’s lawyers handled the legal elements of the patent, and that Sadler’s experience with the patent process helped secure their own.
Perazzone’s research encountered its share of snags. He says the most difficult part of wireless security research is estimating a potential eavesdropper’s methods of detection.
Yet, he remains optimistic that his research can evade the cat-and-mouse nature of security research between transmitters and potential adversaries.
Blum says his former student has a bright future as an electrical engineer. At ARL, Perazzone will continue his studies in authentication, as well as the role of machine learning in detecting cyberattacks and deceiving adversaries.
“Jake is hardworking, he thinks carefully about what he’s doing, and he listens. He’ll have a great career.”
—Will Newbegin ’21 is a student writer for the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science