Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Damon Woodard

The ECE FICS Research Department is filled with immense talent and academic aptitude. An notable part of this distinguished institute is Associate Professor Dr. Damon Woodard. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He is also a founding member of the Center of Advanced Studies in Identity Science (CASIS), which is the Office of the Director National Intelligence’s (ODNI) first science and technology-based Center of Academic Excellence (CAE).  He details his academic journey and life experiences, as we talk he shares his insight on biometrics and some of his exciting innovative projects .

Tell us a little about yourself.
I am one of five siblings from a low-income family in New Orleans, Louisiana. I never finished high school, but I was the first in my family to attend college and later the first African-American to obtain a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Notre Dame.

What set you on your path to the field of cybersecurity?
At the time when I decided to go back to school, I had to figure out what area I wanted to study. Financial considerations played a major part in my decision making at the time. I remember speaking to a guidance counselor, and she mentioned that the field of computer science was very lucrative. While studying computer science as an undergraduate and graduate student, I was exposed to research in a number of topic areas. Later after joining academia as a faculty member, I heard the University of Florida was planning to build a team that specializes in different areas of cybersecurity, and I have always had an interest in the area. I work in security, but until recently my research has not focused on the cyber aspect but rather security topic areas of interest to law enforcement and the intelligence community. Now that my work is moving more towards problems related to cyberspace, it seems like a logical transition to the field of cybersecurity.

Tell us more about your current projects?
My main project focuses on the problems of authorship attribution and authorship obfuscation. In authorship attribution, we are trying to develop techniques which would allow us to establish the authorship of electronic documents automatically. This ability would have a number of applications in law enforcement investigations. In authorship obfuscation, we are investigating methods of hiding authorship to protect privacy.Another project I am working on involves the use of mobile device usage as a means of establishing identity. Unlike face or fingerprint, mobile device usage is considered a behavioral biometric. As we focus more on establishing identity in cyberspace, the use of behavioral biometrics will become more common.

What impact will your area of study within Biometrics/Identity Science will have in the daily lives of individuals?
I think we’re getting to the point where we won’t use traditional means of establishing identity anymore. Normally we use tokens, something that you have like an ID card or something that you know like a password but there are issues with these identification methods being lost, stolen or shared. To address these issues, society is moving more towards biometrics to establish identity. The use of biometrics makes life more convenient and reduces fraud but comes with its own set of difficulties.

What if someone creates a mask or steals your fingerprints?
There is an entire area in Biometrics called “spoof detection.” Researchers who look for ways to spoof biometric systems and automatically detect when someone is using a spoofing method. Another area of biometric research is “liveness detection.” One of the requirements is to make sure the biometric sample that you are currently processing is from a live individual.

Why did you choose the career path of academia vs. industry?
For the longest time, I said I was going to go into industry and focus on making a lot of money. Right before I graduated from graduate school, I spoke to my advisor who shaped my decision to go into academia instead. I had many ideas about what problems I wanted to work on next and my advisor said: “if you start working for a company basically they are going to tell you what you’re going to work on because that is how industry works.” I decided that I would go into academia instead because I would have the freedom to work on problems of my choosing. Another reason that I chose academia is that during my academic career, I have experienced a number of challenges. A few of my friends have joked that I should write a book on my life experiences. Given my background and life experiences, I believe someone with a similar background could benefit from what I learned or possibly be inspired. I thought this benefit could be larger within academia versus industry.

What lasting impact would you like your research to have in this world?
I would my research to contribute in making the world safer by providing a fool-proof means of establishing identity as well and improve convenience.

If you had to pick two celebrities to be your parents, who would they be?
The Obamas. The intellect and being able to inspire people, would be traits I would want to inherit.

If you could choose one superhero to be your best friend who would it be and why?
Iron man because he has a cool lab and nearly unlimited funding. Therefore I could make all the toys I desired.