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Frisco ISD Senior Partners with Gupta Professor to Research Cybersecurity in Smart Homes

By Megan Wagner, MH ’16

Shreenidhi Ayinala had an interest in technology from a young age. In elementary school, she was exploring Scratch and basic coding. In eighth grade, she became involved in robotics, and she has studied computer science all four years of high school. 

Now a senior at Heritage High School in the Frisco Independent School District north of Dallas, she is already making an impact in the world of cybersecurity. As a junior she was accepted into the district’s Independent Study and Mentorship (ISM) program, which has enabled her to further explore her interest in cybersecurity. Her passion for cybersecurity has shown her that she is “able to give back.” 

When Ayinala reapplied for ISM for her senior year, she knew she wanted to look more at the question, “How does technology affect people?” She found UD’s Associate Professor of Cybersecurity Renita Murimi, Ph.D., CISSP, on LinkedIn and contacted her, asking if she would consider being her ISM mentor for the school year. Murimi gladly accepted. Ayinala said of Murimi, “She is so giving of her time, encouraging and responsive.” She added, “Dr. Murimi was patient and also gave me space to think.” 

The two have held all their meetings over Zoom this year. At first, they came together with their initial ideas and collaborated about what to focus their energy and research on, ultimately landing on the nature of smart homes. In beginning their research, the two decided to open with the question, “What do we consider home?” They defined a home as “an emotional investment, a retreat, a safe space.” Ayinala added, “A home is where an individual can find comfort, be themself and not worry. It provides privacy, one’s own space and familiarity.” 

This definition led to the question: What does a smart home mean, then? It is a home with smart devices that collect data and connect to the internet and often to other devices. Smart homes can include smart photo frames, smart light bulbs, smart refrigerators, Ring doorbells, smart thermostats and baby monitors, and the list continues. Murimi pointed out that throughout history, homes have had “technology and tools appropriate to the time. Computers, etc., are our tools. There are smart devices in so many categories of a home today — salt shakers and cat litter boxes, for example.” 

They followed up their initial question by contemplating, “What if this information is hacked?” Together they looked into the psychology of those impacted by hacks and breaches, which typically result in emotional distress. The fields of sociology and anthropology are also incorporated into their study. The theory of territoriality proposed by Douglas Porteous in 1976 provided the foundation for their research. Porteous proposed the idea that “individuals exert jurisdiction over [their] personal space.” Murimi added, “A home is an extension of territoriality.”  

“Home is supposed to provide identity, security and stimulation,” explained Murimi. She added, “Smart homes should give us these things. We ought to have the ability to choose what data to share.” Ayinala added, “However, if security is taken away from an individual, their experience of home is altered.” Boundaries are erased through a breach or hacking. The resident may struggle with their sense of security and identity. Hacking and breaches of smart devices occur due to a number of reasons, but they fall into three main categories: vulnerable sensors, vulnerability to malware, and faulty data …….



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