Mark Gray: Head in the ‘Cloud’
July 11, 2012
A computer science major and Carr Scholarship holder from San Angelo, Gray is working on a project that will provide ASU students, faculty and staff access to the university’s personal ‘cloud’ online storage system.
“The ‘cloud’ is basically a hard drive that is not on your computer,” Gray said. “It is a storage medium that you can access through the Internet. It’s where you can store files, photos or basically anything you want, and then you can retrieve them later.”
While cloud systems have become increasingly popular, one potential drawback is that there is often minimal security provided for files stored by users.
“Most of them are actually not that secure,” Gray said. “You can put your files up there, but they won’t encrypt them or anything like that for you. You have to handle all that on your own.”
That is where Gray’s project comes in. He is part of a team working on ASU’s Ram Cloud system as well as new cutting-edge software that will provide much tougher security protocols to protect stored files and information.
“That is what our Netsafe security engine does,” Gray said. “It uses a set of distinctive features about the user, the specific file and maybe even some randomly generated information, and it puts it all together to create a key that it then uses to encrypt the file. Then it sends it to the cloud server.”
“If somebody was to get a hold of the file,” he added, “they would just see a really long gibberish name. Then, even if they were able to un-encrypt the name, they would just see a whole bunch of files. Even if they put the files back together, the whole thing would still be encrypted and compressed in a way that they would have to know all the specific information entered in the file’s key and the encryption steps to even be able to start to use the data.”
“You can basically study almost every area of computer science at ASU.”
The Ram Cloud is a joint project also involving Dr. Tim Roden, director of ASU’s computer science program, several members of the university’s IT staff, and Gray’s brother, Matt. A recent ASU graduate, Matt is a co-inventor of Netsafe, which has a U.S. patent pending.
The ASU group is also working with MyMail Technology, a San Angelo company that provides e-mail security, on an enterprise version of Netsafe that will be available for purchase by other companies wanting to provide extra security for their ‘cloud’ systems.
When he does not have his head in the cloud, Gray also enjoys participating in ASU intramural sports and spending time with his friends at the local lakes. That should not be surprising as Gray’s dad owns one of the most popular businesses on Lake Nasworthy, Packsaddle Bar-B-Que, where Gray still puts in the odd shift.
“I’m pretty much the catering guy,” Gray said. “Whenever there is a catering job, my dad will call me up. He, my little brother Mason and I will go out and take care of it.”
“Up until my eighth-grade year, I would go up there to work just about every Friday and Saturday,” he added. “After I got a driver’s license, I was pretty much on call after school. It was also my first job when I came to college – I would go up there to work nights.”
Many of Gray’s current nights, though, are spent on the Ram Cloud and Netsafe projects as he works toward graduating from ASU in the fall of 2013, and then heading to graduate school.
“I’m not exactly sure where yet, or what field of computer science,” Gray said. “I’m hoping that by the time I get there, I’ll have a much better idea.”
And Gray thinks ASU is a great place to help him make up his mind.
“I like the differences in all the professors,” Gray said. “You can’t just do everything the same way. Dr. (Mark) Crouch has a database management class, so we can do a lot with data systems. Dr. Roden has the computer game design classes, Dr. (Rob) LeGrand has all the algorithm classes and Dr. (Mark) Motl knows all about servers. So, you can basically study almost every area of computer science at ASU.”