Kelsey Fulton Takes on Steep Challenge of Developing Secure Software

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Just like the rock walls she scales multiple times a week, Kelsey Fulton knows that any challenge—mentally or physically—takes patience, perseverance, and quick thinking.

Fulton, a fourth-year computer science doctoral student in the Maryland Cybersecurity Center (MC2), is an avid rock climber who likes to stay physically active, often lifting weights twice a week to maintain her strength and help prevent climbing injuries.

She excels in putting that same level of discipline and determination into her research, which explores the human factors of information security with a focus on software developers and security professionals.

Fulton earned her master’s degree in computer science from UMD in 2019 and is advised in her doctoral studies by Michelle Mazurek, an associate professor of computer science with a joint appointment in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS).

Her most recent work focuses on the barriers to adoption of secure programming languages to provide an empirical foundation for the future design of secure languages, application programming interfaces and tools.

“Ideally, I'd like my work to help answer the very broad but important question of how can we mitigate the existence of vulnerabilities in software, while actually providing actionable recommendations for software developers and companies to make,” Fulton says. “I'd like the recommendations that come as a result of my work to end up being implemented at technology companies.”

Fulton is currently working on exploring the barriers to adopting a secure programming language with Rust—a multi-paradigm programming language focused on performance and safety—as a case study.

She is hoping to understand why learning, adopting and using secure programming languages is difficult so as to make it easier in the future.

Fulton says she appreciates how MC2 has provided an open environment for sharing and nurturing ideas.

“I really enjoy how friendly and collaborative MC2 is,” she says. “When we were able to be on campus, it was incredibly easy to chat with people working outside of my research group about their work as well as discuss where our work could potentially have overlap.”

Mazurek calls Fulton a “tremendous asset” to MC2 and says she feels lucky to have her as a team member.

“Kelsey conducts really top-quality work on hard, important problems related to how to help developers write more secure code,” Mazurek says. “She's also a great lab-mate and team member who is always willing to help out other students when needed—she’s been a great mentor to several undergrad researchers.”

After she earns her doctorate, Fulton says her ideal goal would be to work in a federal position or at a think tank doing research that is used to help inform public policy decisions.

“I think understanding and exploring the hurdles and difficulties that security professionals and software developers face is really important and necessary work,” she says.

—Story by Melissa Brachfeld

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