Danfeng "Daphne" Yao, professor in the Department of Computer Science and affiliate faculty at the Sanghani Center for Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics at Virginia Tech, has been elevated to fellow, the highest grade of membership in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), for her contributions to enterprise data security and high-precision vulnerability screening. 

Following a rigorous evaluation procedure, fewer than 0.1 percent of voting members in the institute are selected annually for this career milestone.

Yao, who joined Virginia Tech in 2010, also is an Elizabeth and James E. Turner Jr. '56 Faculty Fellow and a CACI Faculty Fellow, and she leads the Human-centric Machine Intelligence Lab dedicated to developing translational and deployable machine learning solutions for challenging problems including digital health and cyber defenses.

“Daphne’s elevation to IEEE fellow recognizes the impact that her research contributions have made in the real world,” said Cal Ribbens, professor and head of the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering. “An outstanding leader and role model in our department, she exemplifies the ideal qualities of a productive faculty member: innovative individual research driven by high scholarly standards, deep curiosity and persistence for intellectual pursuit, the ability to collaborate to address important problems, and enthusiasm for academic community building, mentoring, and leadership.”

A pioneer in enterprise data security, Yao was responsible for the first measurement on Payment Card Industry security that resulted in significantly improved enforcement of security standards and reduced data breach risks. 

Her expertise extends to inventing multiple influential cyberdefense algorithms and visionary enterprise-wide strategies that have broadly impacted the financial and cybersecurity industries, businesses, and decision makers. By advancing understanding and preparedness against data breaches among these groups, she has helped protect billions of consumers.

One of Yao’s key contributions to data security industry is a CryptoGuard tool that she developed to help large software companies and Apache projects harden their cryptographic code. Oracle Labs is using it for detecting misuses in millions of lines of production code.

In the book “Anomaly Detection as a Service,” she systematized program anomaly detection. Yao also coined the phrase data loss detection as a service and pioneered influential privacy-preserving detection solutions for cloud services. Her patents have been deemed extremely influential by major cybersecurity firms and technology companies.

In 2021, Yao received the prestigious Lasting Research Award at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Conference on Data and Application Security and Privacy. She is also an ACM Distinguished Member for Outstanding Scientific Contributions to Computing. Previously, she received an National Science Foundation CAREER Award and a Young Investigator Award from the Army Research Office. 

In spring 2022, she was honored with two university awards: the Inspiring Innovator Award from Virginia Tech and the Dean’s Award for Research Excellence from the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. 

Yao currently serves as vice chair of the ACM Special Interest Group on Security, Audit and Control and has been a member of the group’s executive committee since 2017.

An IEEE member since 2007, she has served the organization in a number of capacities, including serving as program chair for the IEEE Secure Development Conference in 2019 and steering committee chair for the conference from 2019-22. Yao was associate editor for IEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing from 2014-18 and co-editor of the IEEE Security and Privacy 2021 Special Issue on the Annual Computer Security Applications  Conference in 2020.  

She has published more than 110 peer-reviewed conference and journal articles and has given many keynote addresses and talks at leadership venues, including the Federal Trade Commission, PrivacyCon, and World Bank Group meetings.

Yao received a Ph.D. in computer science from Brown University; a master’s degree in chemistry from Princeton University; a master’s degree in computer science from Indiana University, Bloomington; and a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Peking University in China.

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