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Institute Announces 2016-2017 Steering Committee Members

October 6th, 2016 in Institute News, Significant Bits.

The Hariri Institute for Computing is pleased to recognize the Institute’s 2016-2017 Steering Committee members.

As a cornerstone of one of Boston University’s strategic areas of research, the Hariri Institute for Computing and its Steering Committee (SC) play a critical role in strengthening the broad BU computing and data-driven community of scholars.

The Institute is excited to welcome two new SC members this fall: Doug Densmore, associate professor of electrical & computer engineering (ENG) and Dino Christenson, associate professor of political science (CAS). Both were members of the 2012 Hariri Institute Junior Faculty Fellows cohort and appointed as Institute Faculty Fellows earlier this year.

Additionally, the Institute would like to thank Cornelius Hurley, professor of the practice of banking law and director of the BU Center for Finance, Law & Policy (LAW), and Strom Thacker, former professor of international relations & political science and associate dean (CAS), for their service as SC members. Appointed in 2012, both are stepping down, after having provided critical leadership during the Institute’s formative years.

The Institute is grateful for the continued service of Andrea Berlin (Archaeology/CAS), Margrit Betke (Computer Science/CAS), John Byers (Computer Science/CAS), Roscoe Giles (Electrical & Computer Engineering/ENG), Thomas Kepler (Microbiology/MED), Yannis Paschalidis (Electrical & Computer Engineering/ENG), and Barbara Shinn-Cunningham (Biomedical Engineering/ENG). In addition to appointed SC members, the Institute is thankful for the work of ex-officio members, Ran Canetti (RISCS; Computer Science/CAS), David Coker (CCS; Chemistry/CAS), Chris Dellarocas (Associate Provost for Digital Learning & Innovation; Information Systems/Questrom), and Orran Krieger (CCI; Electrical & Computer Engineering/ENG).

For questions about the Institute’s Steering Committee, please contact Linda Grosser, Director, Program and Project Management, at

Graduate Student Fellow Jonathan Hersh’s Work Profiled by the Brookings Institution

October 4th, 2016 in Institute News, Significant Bits.

Jonathan Hersh, a member of the Institute’s first-ever Graduate Student Fellows cohort, has drawn national attention for his dissertation and recent work with the World Bank. The dissertation, titled “Poverty in HD: What Does High Resolution Satellite Imagery Reveal about Economic Welfare?“, uses data from Sri Lanka to “investigate the ability of features derived from high spatial resolution satellite images to accurately predict spatial variation in poverty across small areas.” Hersh, along with fellow researches Ryan Engstrom (George Washington University) and David Newhouse (BU), used satellite images of features such as the number and density of buildings, shadow area, car counts, paved and unpaved roads, and farmland to predict the poverty variation in small areas.

As reported by the Brookings Institution, such technology would allow policymakers the ability to more accurately decide “where to concentrate poverty-alleviation programs based on limited data…For example, where to role out cash transfer programs aiming to reach the most vulnerable or chronically poor.” The features from satellite technology account for about 60% of the variation in the estimated share of the population in the bottom 40th percentile of the national income distribution.

Brookings is a highly reputed nonprofit public policy organization. A think tank that aims “to conduct in-depth research that leads to new ideas for solving problems facing society at the local, national and global level,” Brookings has long been regarded and respected as an institute that shapes public policy.

Read the Brookings Institution article on Jonathan’s dissertation.

Institute Congratulates 2016 Graduate Student Fellows

September 20th, 2016 in Institute News, Significant Bits.

The Hariri Institute for Computing congratulates the first cohort of Graduate Student Fellows:


The Institute welcomes both Graduate Student Fellows and the professors they will be working closely with on new and ongoing research.

The Graduate Student Fellows Program, a new program at the Institute, recognizes outstanding PhD students with the potential to become ambassadors for the entire Boston University computing, computational, and data-driven research community. This honor is given to continuing PhD students who have distinguished themselves during their time at Boston University by attaining significant achievements in computational or data-driven research, as well as to prospective, incoming PhD students who possess exceptional potential for pursuing promising computational and data-driven study.

[Learn more about our Graduate Student Fellows]

Institute Announces 2016 Junior Faculty Fellows

September 14th, 2016 in Institute News, Significant Bits.

The Hariri Institute for Computing at Boston University is pleased to announce its 2016 cohort of Junior Faculty Fellows. They are:

  • Jacob Bor, Assistant Professor, Department of Global Health (SPH)
  • Jacob Groshek, Assistant Professor, Division of Emerging Media Studies (COM)
  • Lei Guo, Assistant Professor, Division of Emerging Media Studies (COM)
  • Adam Guren, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics (CAS)
  • Dan Li, Assistant Professor, Department of Earth & Environment (CAS)
  • Sahar Sharifzadeh, Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and Division of Materials Science & Engineering (ENG)


Institute Fellow Sharon Goldberg Designs Anonymous Bitcoin Payment System

September 2nd, 2016 in BU News, Institute News, Significant Bits.

As the surveillance industry continues to expose weaknesses in Bitcoin’s security properties, one of most valuable attributes of the system, payment anonymity, has come into question. Led by Hariri Institute Faculty Fellow and computer science professor Sharon Goldberg, a team of BU researchers, including PhD candidate Ethan Heilman, undergraduate student Leen Alshenibr, and postdoc researchers Foteini Baldimtsi and Allesandra Saguaro, designed TumbleBit, a new Bitcoin-compatible unlinkable payment hub. Their work further establishes BU’s leadership role in developing cutting-edge research that’s shaping the future of cyber security.

TumbleBit provides a platform through which parties can make fast, anonymous, off-blockchain payments through an untrusted intermediary called the Tumbler. However, no party, including the Tumbler, can link a payment from payer to payee. This creates a powerful tool that makes up for the demonstrated weaknesses in Bitcoin’s anonymity properties. As researchers note, “if the service knows exactly which payer is paying which payee, then a compromise of the service leads to a total loss of anonymity.” The platform uses cryptographic techniques to ensure the intermediary can’t violate anonymity, steal bitcoins, or “print money” by issuing payments to itself. Furthermore, because TumbleBit payments take place off of the Bitcoin blockchain, the platform can process a payment 1.2 seconds as compared to the 10 minute process time for bitcoin transactions made on the blockchain.

The paper, released Friday, August 26, has already gained significant buzz in the bitcoin world. A recent reddit thread about the paper has generated a lively discussion of the platform’s unique properties and Ansel Lidner spoke about Tumblebit during a segment in “Bitcoin and Markets” podcast segment. The also praises the researchers’ work.

[read the paper or view the GitHub repository]

Faculty Fellow Sharon Goldberg Briefs Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus

June 16th, 2016 in BU News, Institute News, Significant Bits.

University Provost, Jean Morrison, kicked off today’s Capitol Hill cybersecurity briefing by framing internet insecurity as a challenge that sits at the intersection of policy, education, and research. The panel, titled “The Other 95%: The Unsecure Internet You Don’t Know About,” featured panelists Sharon Goldberg, Hariri Faculty Fellow and associate professor of computer science; Joseph Hall, Chief Technologist for the Center for Democracy & Technology; and Joseph Calandrino, Policy Director for the Office of Technology Research and Investigation at the Federal Trade Commission. The discussion aimed to brief the Congressional Cybersecurity Caucus on the true breadth of internet insecurity and what can (or can not) be done to fix it. A national expert of cybersecurity, Professor Goldberg focused her presentation on security risks posed by Border Gateway Protocol and Domain Name System manipulation.


Goldberg was selected as an Hariri Institute Junior Faculty Fellow in fall of 2012 and appointed as a Faculty Fellow in 2015. She joined Boston University’s Department of Computer Science in 2010. Her research focuses on the security and privacy of computer networks, combining formal techniques from cryptography and game theory with empire network data and large- scale simulations. She has served on working groups of the advisory council to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the security and reliability of telecommunications systems. Azer Bestavros, founding director of the Hariri Institute for Computing and professor of computer science at BU notes that Goldberg’s research has helped solidify ‘BU’s presence in cybersecurity.” 

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[More Information]

[Professor Goldberg’s Presentation Slides]

Hariri Institute Helps Makes Equal Pay a Reality for The Boston Women’s Workforce Council

March 31st, 2016 in Institute News, Significant Bits.

On March 28, 2016, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh signed the Boston Women’s Workforce Councils 100% Talent Compact. The 100% Talent Compact is an effort to close the gender pay gap by anonymously collecting wage data in real time and by working with employers to implement research-tested interventions.

The Boston Women’s Workforce Council will use a simple algorithm to collect wage data from companies without revealing individual company’s proprietary information, which originally posed an issue as companies did not want to risk their payrolls being disclosed.

The algorithm was developed by Azer Bestavros, Founding Director of the Hariri Institute, and the software to implement the algorithm was created by Andrei Lapets, Director of Research Development at the Hariri Institute alongside two BU students.

The algorithm, which is a multiparty computation, works by using random numbers to camouflage the data and keep the company’s pay information private.

Read more about the algorithm and the Boston Women’s Workforce Council’s endeavor to improve pay equality here.

(Mayor’s Office photos by Jeremiah Robinson) 

Hariri Fellow to Participate in Cybersecurity Panel

March 30th, 2016 in BU News, Significant Bits.

On Wednesday, April 6, 2016, Sharon Goldberg, associate professor of computer science and Hariri Institute fellow, will participate in the Lessons in Cybersecurity Panel alongside professors Ivan Arreguin Toft and John D. Woodward, Jr., both of the BU Pardee School. The panel will focus on the ongoing encryption dispute between Apple and the FBI and will take place from 12:30 – 1:30 pm at 121 Bay State Road (lunch at 12 pm).

Cybersecurity is a key focus of the Hariri Institute, which hosts the Center for Reliable Information Systems and Cyber Security (RISCS) and facilitates the Modular Approach to Cloud Security (MACS) project. Through RISCS, BU is recognized as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education and Research. MACS, which is funded by a $10 million, five-year National Science Foundation grant, is a multi-institution project that addresses grand challenges in cybersecurity science and engineering with the potential for broad economic and scientific impact.


Professor Chrysanthos Dellarocas Appointed Associate Provost for Digital Learning and Innovation

March 14th, 2016 in BU News, Institute News, Significant Bits.

Chrysanthos (Chris) Dellarocas, Hariri Institute Steering Committee Member and Fellow, and Richard C. Shipley Professor of Management in the Department of Information Systems at the Questrom School of Business, has been appointed to the newly-created role of Associate Provost for Digital Learning and Innovation.

University Provost Jean Morrison notes, “Chris will serve as the senior officer responsible for advancing activities and strategies that will enhance education at Boston University through the use of digital technologies.” Chris’s appointment to this new leadership position signals BU’s growing emphasis on advancing the field of digital learning.

Since its inception in 2013, Chris has served as the Director of the Digital Learning Initiative (DLI), which is located at the Hariri Institute for Computing. As Director of the DLI, Chris has led BU’s involvement as part of the edX consortium, developing BU’s first Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and has facilitated campus-wide experiments in digital learning through the Council on Educational Technology and Learning Innovation(CETLI)/DLI grants program.

The role of Associate Provost for Digital Learning and Innovation will provide strengthened leadership for a number of existing efforts, such as the Digital Learning Initiative, the Center for Teaching & Learning, and the Educational Technology team in Information Services and Technology (IS&T), all of which are crucial to Boston University’s capacity to develop and enrich the quality of technology-enhanced learning.

[Read More]

Computer Science an Expectation in Boston Public Schools

March 14th, 2016 in Significant Bits.

Computer science, computational thinking, and programming skills are now seen as an expectation, not just an elective, in K-12 schools across Massachusetts. The Office of Instructional and Information Technology (OIIT) currently works in conjunction with the Boston Public School community to ensure that students are future-ready by providing the necessary resources for schools and teachers.

OIIT’s Digital Learning Team believes that “computational thinking is the problem solving skill that is behind programming, including breaking down a problem into smaller steps, designing logical algorithms to solve it, and troubleshooting when something goes wrong. Often called the ‘new literacy,’ computational thinking is a foundational skill that is essential in any discipline or career field that students choose to go into. When we teach ‘coding’ or programming, our goal is to teach students computational thinking.”

Some Boston Public Schools have already incorporated computational thinking in pre-K through high school programs. For example, kindergarten and elementary school students are introduced to kid-friendly software such as Kodable and The Foos as a way to learn how to break down problems into smaller steps. They receive hands-on hardware experience through the LEGO WeDo tool, which helps students learn, design, and construct 3D models. In middle and high school grade levels, students learn to program in languages such as Java, Python, and HTML. They work with Arduino kits and Raspberry Pis while also being introduced to the AP computer science curriculum.

[Read more]