ACM Recognizes Meseguer, Tong for Contributions to the Computing Field

1/20/2021 10:10:26 AM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

Two Illinois CS faculty recently earned recognition by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, for achievements in computing.

In a year in which ACM received more nominations than ever before, Illinois CS professor Jose Meseguer earned acknowledgement as a 2020 ACM Fellow. Only the top 1 percent of ACM Members earn Fellow status for their outstanding accomplishments in computing and information technology and/or outstanding service to ACM and the larger computing community. This year, 95 of the organization’s members, including six former Turing Award winners, were named ACM Fellows.

Additionally, professor Hanghang Tong became one of 64 ACM Distinguished Members in 2020. These longstanding ACM members earn selection from their peers for a range of accomplishments that move the computing field forward.

Meseguer credits collaborations with breakthroughs, lifelong connections

Jose Meseguer
Jose Meseguer

When Meseguer joined Illinois CS in 2001, years of experience already afforded the professor a reputation in formal methods that preceded him.

This reputation derived from his ongoing development of rewriting logic and Maude, a high-performance reflective language and system supporting both equational and rewriting logic specification and programming for a wide range of applications.

“Maude, which I began working on and designed with a research team in the mid-1990s, is now widely used and one of the fastest declarative languages for programming. Over the years I have been at Illinois CS, Maude has connected to a number of different application areas.” Meseguer said. “More importantly, I don’t work with Maude – or in other research projects – in an isolated way. Instead, I have enjoyed and prized very much working with colleagues both in the department and around the world.”

Those connections led to several research achievements, which the ACM Fellow recognized as “the development of logical methods for design and verification of computational systems.” Examples that mean the most to Meseguer include:

  • The 2007 publishing of “The rewriting logic semantics project” with fellow Illinois CS professor Grigore Rosu. These two worked together to “bridge the existing gap between language definitions on the one hand, and language implementations and language definitions on the other.” Meseguer said that several substantial applications based off their findings have occurred since, primarily through Rosu’s company Runtime Verification.
  • The Maude-NRL Protocol Analyzer (Maude-NPA), a tool for the analysis of cryptographic protocols using functions that obey different equational theories. This security development analyzes the protocols through which consumers conduct financial transactions online.
  • A 2005 collaboration regarding Denial-of-Service (DoS) attacks with fellow Illinois CS professors Gul Agha and Carl Gunter, among others, resulting in a report titled, “Formal modeling and analysis of DoS using probabilistic rewrite theories.” Together, the authors described “a way to expand term rewriting theories to include probabilistic aspects that can show the effectiveness of DoS countermeasures.” This pioneering work has led to important subsequent design and verification of other novel DoS protection protocols using Maude.
  • The 2007 publication "A Systematic Approach to Uncover Security Flaws in GUI Logic" with former Ph.D. student Ralf Sasse and researchers at Microsoft Research uncovered 13 new types of security vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer (IE) using Maude.  This led to a new version of IE avoiding all these vulnerabilities.
  • The Illinois Browser and Operating System (IBOS), which derived from a published report in 2012 with then Illinois CS professor Samuel T. King, Meseguer, and their respective former PhD students Shuo Tang and Ralf Sasse. The authors acknowledged that “current web browsers are complex, have enormous trusted computing bases, and provide attackers with easy access to computer systems.” In response they designed and verified “IBOS: A “Correct-by-Construction Modular Browser.”
  • A 2018 cloud based security project – with fellow Illinois CS professor Indranil Gupta, Meseguer's former Ph.D. students Si Liu and Stephen Skeirik and others – entitled “Survivability: Design, formal modeling, and validation of cloud storage systems using Maude.” As this group became among the first to delve into cloud-based security, the group proposed “rewriting logic and its accompanying Maude tools as a suitable framework for formally specifying and analyzing both the correctness and the performance of cloud storage systems.”
  • The creation of PALS, (Physically Asynchronous/Logically Synchronous systems) systems with fellow CS professor and Donald B. Gillies Chair in Computer Science Lui Sha and collaborators in the paper “Implementing logical synchrony in integrated modular avionics.” PALS is a “complexity reducing design pattern (that) greatly simplifies the development and verification of fault tolerant distributed applications, ensures optimal system performance, and provides a standard argument for system certification.” PALS solves hard synchronization issues in distributed real-time systems. This work received the IEEE AIAA David Lubkowski Award for Advancement in Digital Avionics, and has been further extended in subsequent research by Meseguer, Sha, and collaborators.

While recognition as ACM Fellow accounts for all these projects and many more, to Meseguer the honor to Meseguer the honor recognizes not just his work, but that of his students and his many collaborators. These partnerships occurred right here at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, but also stretched as far as South America, China, Japan, Korea, and many countries in Europe.

“Without the support of collaborators and the Illinois CS department, none of this would’ve been possible,” Meseguer said. “This is much broader than any one individual, and because of that I’ve led a very charmed life. All of the people I’ve worked with share a passion and a love for research that breeds a high level of excellence.

“And the best thing about these people and these collaborations is that they have led to friendships for life.”

Tong continues to find inspiration from, strives to dig deeper into data mining

In his second year with Illinois CS, Hanghang Tong has already established himself as an impactful researcher and teacher focused on data mining.

Hanghang Tong
Hanghang Tong

His colleagues with ACM recognized this as well, recently announcing Tong as a Distinguished Member for 2020.

“Of course, I’m honored to receive this award, but I also think it’s very humbling,” Tong said. “ACM is a distinguished body that represents the best of what we do in Computer Science. But this accomplishment reflects more on the people around me throughout my time in academia.

“It’s also a reflection of how great an institution Illinois CS is, which is primarily due to the people we have here.”

Tong’s track record includes time spent in the industry and in academia, with Arizona State University prior to joining Illinois CS. This positioned Tong as researcher who delves into the algorithms behind graph mining. This, he said, leads to a better understanding of “how to search the graph, detect the communities within it and how to make a prediction or inference.”

Two of the most impactful research topics Tong recalls working on includes graph proximity computing, which he garnered two best paper awards and a test-of-time award for and, more recently, graph connectivity optimization.

“I’m fascinated by the data – especially real data from real applications,” Tong said. “I love to work with the impact of the research in mind, as that pays off with ambitious and productive results in the long term.”

He credited influences like  PhD adviser Christos Faloutsos at Central Michigan University and Michael Aiken Chair at Illinois CS, Jiawei Han, for his development in CS research. Faloutsos, Tong said taught him how to do research, how to enjoy the fun of it, while also treating everyone with kindness. Meanwhile, he came to revere Han before coming to the United States to pursue his PhD. Tong said he read Han’s classic textbook, which helped formulate in his mind the direction he wanted his career to go and has been inspiring him ever since then.

“I feel quite grateful to a great many number of folks,” Tong said. “Some of them are here at Illinois CS, some I’ve worked with before. This includes advisors, mentors, collaborators and students, all of whom I have drawn encouragement and inspiration from along the way.”