By Jonah Grinkewitz

When people travel to a new country, it’s likely an airport employee will check to see if their passport photo matches their face.

But how do you verify someone’s identity online when you can’t see them?

That is the challenge Sachin Shetty is trying to solve.

“The level of guarantee that we can realize in the physical space — doing that in the digital is so hard,” he said.

Shetty is executive director for ODU’s Center for Secure and Intelligent Critical Systems (CSICS), which is supported by the newly established Office of Enterprise Research and Innovation (OERI), and a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University.

Since he joined ODU in 2016, Shetty has worked with partners in the health care, defense and federal industries to develop solutions that verify the identity of devices, ranging from insulin pumps to sensors at power plants, across the digital realm.

“It is a fundamental tenet of cybersecurity that if I trust who I am talking to, if I know the identity of that person or device, I can also assure their behavior,” he said.

Current identity management solutions rely on centralized infrastructure that gives adversaries easy access to a main repository, allowing them to steal the identities of devices and compromise them.

“It’s essentially a beacon for hackers to go in and make changes,” Shetty said.

In response to this issue, he developed a self-sovereign identity (SSI) management system for 5G-enabled devices that does not use a central database. Instead, each individual device must prove its identity to another device.

After years of research and development, Shetty and his team, which includes Research Assistant Professors Safdar Bouk and Bikash Singh and Lead Project Scientist Peter Foytik, will now take this idea to the marketplace with the help of a $100,000 Commonwealth Commercialization Fund (CCF) grant from the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation (VIPC). The CCF grant will fund commercialization of the platform to support health care in rural areas.

“What started in 2016 was a mathematical concept, which through various funding from the defense industry, federal agencies and the health care sector, has taken our technology from a concept to being on the road map for a product,” Shetty said.

He and his team will work with Lockheed Martin, using their test bed to apply their technology in real-world environments. ODU graduate students in cybersecurity and electrical and computer engineering will help with software development and testing.

The grant will also lead to better network connectivity for patients in rural areas who lack access to high-speed broadband.

“Our solution improves communication in areas with low 5G connectivity, making it faster, more secure, and giving users the ability to connect with any service network,” said Shetty.

Since 2021, the VIPC’s CCF programs have distributed more than $54 million to Virginia-based startups, entrepreneurs and university-based inventors in support of critical early technology testing and market validation efforts.

“Dr. Shetty is a respected expert in 5G technologies and has a good track record of attracting funding and industry partners,” said Hina Mehta, VIPC’s director for university programs. “The collaboration with and ultimate commercialization of the proposed system by Lockheed Martin through this CCF grant is yet another example of an exciting public-private partnership between a university and industry, embodying the underlying spirit of the CCF higher ed program to launch technologies from the lab to market.”