An anonymous donor established the professorship in 2009 to support the research and scholarly activities of a faculty member in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science.
Hamlen serves as technical advisor for UT Dallas’ Cyber Security Research and Education Institute. He focuses on language-based security, a field that leverages techniques from programming language theory and compilers to enforce software security.
I want to show students how scientific, mathematical and formal reasoning can help us protect the world from dangerous cyberthreats.
Dr. Kevin Hamlen doesn’t want to just stop computer hackers. He likes to turn the tables on them — maybe even teach them a lesson.
Hamlen develops techniques to deceive online intruders and learn from their tactics. In 2019 he introduced crook-sourcing, which builds new security defenses by tricking hackers into taking actions that actually train the computer to recognize and stop future attacks.
“There are criminals trying to attack our networks all the time, and normally we view that as a negative thing. Instead of blocking them, maybe what we could be doing is viewing these attackers as a source of free labor. They’re providing us data about what malicious attacks look like. It’s a free source of highly prized data,” Hamlen said.
Hamlen also created a technique in 2014 called honey-patching, which tracks online intruders by turning software patches (fixes regularly released by software companies) into hidden decoy servers that make hackers think their failed attacks are successful. The decoy servers make hackers believe they have gained access to confidential, secure information when in fact their deeds are being monitored, analyzed and traced back to the source.
In 2012 he discovered a fundamental mathematical flaw in the way nearly all antivirus products work. He created “Frankenstein,” which defeated nearly every antivirus product in the world.
Hamlen’s research was selected for publication in the 2016 National Science Foundation’s Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers Technology Breakthroughs Compendium.
Known for his formal, mathematical approaches to his teaching of program analysis, computer security and computer science, Hamlen hopes to arm the next generation of computer scientists with the skills necessary to design and assess mission-critical software systems and to cultivate a science of computer security that offers rigorous, mathematically provable guarantees to users. In 2013 he won the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science Outstanding Teacher Award.
“My teaching style has a reputation among UTD students for combining high challenge with high interest and value,” he said.
Hamlen received his master’s degree and PhD in computer science from Cornell University and earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematical sciences from Carnegie Mellon University.