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With a Novel Approach to Stopping Identity Theft, Faculty Paper Earns Award Nomination

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

“If you lose your birth certificate, there’s nothing to keep someone from claiming it as their own and stealing your identity,” said Ying Liu, Ph.D., explaining his award-nominated paper on the value of linking the crucial document to a person’s DNA. “Right now, there’s no method of accurately authenticating a birth certificate.”

Dr. Liu, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Mathematics, and Science at St. John’s University, examined the issue in  “Securing Birth Certificate Documents with DNA Profiles,” a paper he presented at The Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS). The work was nominated for Best Paper in the Electronic Government Track. HICSS is the longest-standing working scientific conference in Information Technology Management and attracts top scholars from over 60 countries.

“I would like to congratulate Dr. Liu and Dr. Schweikert for this prestigious nomination,” said Katia Passerini, Ph.D., Dean, College of Professional Studies. “HICSS is a very prestigious and selective conference in the area of system sciences with over 50 years of history. This is a remarkable accomplishment for an excellent paper on information security.”

Despite being such a critical form of identification, Dr. Liu maintains, ownership of a birth certificate is strictly a matter of possession. DNA, his paper suggests, could remedy this situation by adding a permanent method of validation. Dr. Liu co-authored the paper with Christina Schweikert, Ph.D., who is also an Assistant Professor in the University’s College of Professional Studies, and Mark Tannian, Ph.D., a cyber security specialist.

“Physical attributes, such as fingerprints, can change over time,” Dr. Liu said, explaining why DNA is a superior biometric in terms of identity theft prevention. “DNA is forever.”

The research paper was born out of Liu’s desire to work with other faculty on a common project. “My specialty is data mining,” he said. “Dr. Schweikert is an expert in data analytics and Dr. Tannian is an expert in security, so after a lot of brainstorming, we discovered a common ground to explore.”

Inspired by the positive response to their paper, Dr. Liu and his research partners are working on a follow-up that will focus, among other things, on methods to securely encrypt the DNA profile so it could be used with the birth certificate. “Above all, we have to protect the privacy of the individual,” he said. “Understandably, people don’t want their DNA to be released to everybody.”

Dr. Liu expects to involve students in the next phase of his work. “Our primary mission,” he said, “is to teach students. We have the chance to involve them in internationally recognized research. It’s a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved.”