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October 24, 2002 Mourrad Debbabi has joined new Info Systems Institute



Mourrad Debbabi

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Janice Hamilton

The newly established Concordia Institute for Information Systems Engineering (CIISE) has attracted its first full-time faculty member, a specialist in computer security and in next-generation mobile, wireless devices.

The CIISE “is one of the big reasons why I came here,” said Professor Mourrad Debbabi, who arrived at Concordia from Panasonic Research, at Princeton in April. Not only is the institute unique in Canada, but “it offers an opportunity to build something new.”

The CIISE is an interdisciplinary research and training institute that explores applications of information systems to a wide range of engineering, including telecommunications, electronics, aerospace, banking, manufacturing, and construction. “I want to collaborate with people from other departments to see what we can do together in applying computer systems engineering,” he said.

Debbabi did his undergraduate studies in computer science at Constantine University in Algeria, and his graduate work at Paris XI Orsay University. He worked for Bull Research, a large computer research firm in Paris, and, after deciding to pursue a career in academia, went to Laval in 1994. Since then, he has switched between teaching and industry, including a six-month stint at Stanford University as a research associate.

He has been on leave from Laval since 2000, working for General Electric Corporate Research and Panasonic Information and Networking Technologies Laboratory in the United States, but he continued to supervise his PhD students.

One of his main research interests is computer security: detecting and protecting computers from attack. He is an expert on security and performance issues for middleware in small, mobile devices such as Internet-enabled cellular phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). (Middleware is the software that allows multiple processes running on one or more machines to interact across a network.) He also leads four consortia that aim to elaborate international standards for Java-based presence and instant messaging.

While Debbabi was at Panasonic Research, his graduate students worked extensively on security for Internet-enabled phones. They also researched performance issues, and managed to accelerate by a factor of four some of the Java software (virtual machine) used by small, mobile devices. Their expertise in these fields is unique in Canada.

“Some researchers have done a lot of work on Java middleware for servers and desktops,” he said, “but there is not a lot of knowledge of the Java middleware for mobile devices in the academic community.” Now that Debbabi is at Concordia, he intends to continue his research on performance and security issues for these devices.

The team of nine PhD candidates and one MSc student he supervised at Laval followed him to Montreal. “I think their main motivation was to stay together and continue the project,” he said. About half are within a year or so of completing their PhDs, while the others are just starting.

Debbabi has several awards to his credit, including teaching awards from Laval. In 2000 and 2001, the research group he headed there won three Canadian and provincial awards for excellence in information technology research. These awards were the result of a three-year collaboration with Canada’s Department of National Defense on malicious code detection in software products.

He sees security issues as key to the continued progress of the information technology field, not only for governments and organizations, but also for individuals, since private information on desktops and laptops can be vulnerable to damage or theft.

Devices like mobile handsets have tremendous potential — for example, some day consumers may be able to check the contents of their fridges from the supermarket — but these connections must be secure as well as