International students spend virtual summer at RIT for cybersecurity research program

Global Cybersecurity Institute and RIT Global host virtual Visiting Student Research program

Student researchers from around the world got a glimpse of what RIT’s new Global Cybersecurity Institute has to offer, during a virtual program held this summer.

The Cybersecurity Visiting Student Research program brought together 12 graduate and undergraduate students throughout the summer to explore new cyber research and share their cultural experiences. Visiting students came from Italy, the Netherlands, India, Taiwan, Poland, United Kingdom, and the U.S.

The 10-week program, led by RIT’s Global Cybersecurity Institute (GCI) and RIT Global, initially intended to bring global students to Rochester for the summer. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, organizers decided to run the program virtually.

“We’re aiming to create a rich, culturally diverse experience for these students who would not normally get the chance to come together and brainstorm about what they know,” said Shanchieh (Jay) Yang, director of global outreach for the GCI and professor of computer engineering. “RIT’s GCI has a lot to offer, including our great faculty experts, and we want to share that with the world.”

Students were mentored by faculty advisors and had the chance to fully immerse themselves in tackling a cybersecurity research problem. The researchers looked at privacy situations, cryptography, machine learning and AI for cybersecurity analytics. In the new Global Cybersecurity Institute, a three-story facility on campus, RIT is working to address the global cybersecurity crisis by conducting more groundbreaking research, education, and professional training and development.

“I decided to join because I thought it would be a good opportunity to meet other students coming from all over the world and to experience academic research at another college,” said Azqa Nadeem, a Ph.D. student at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. “Even though the program went fully online, we had a lot of engagement with each other, professors and student clubs from RIT.”

Nadeem, who is originally from Pakistan, worked with Yang to use sequential machine learning and data analytics to extract attack behaviors from intrusion alert data. With the work, they hope to find similarities and differences in the strategies that attackers use, in order to deploy smarter defense mechanisms.

Each week, students led presentations and discussions about their different research projects. Students also took part in professional and personal enrichment workshops and a weekly Tiger Tea Hour.

Andrea Corsini, a master’s student at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy, said that the social hour was a good time to share cultures, talk about food habits, the differences between their academic lives, and about their hobbies.

“I would definitely recommend it to other students,” said Corsini. “I learned many technical things about the cybersecurity world, and on the other side, it’s made me grow as a person.”

Corsini is developing Network Intrusion Detection Systems — programs that detect malicious traffic based on deep learning models. He had always dreamed of studying abroad, but said that due to the circumstances, the virtual program was a good alternative.  

When countries began closing their borders, Sudheendra Raghav Neela, an undergraduate student at Mahindra University in India, was worried and wondering what would happen to the CyberVSR program.

“This summer was looking bleak initially, when India went into lockdown,” said Neela. “However, every Tuesday and Thursday has brought me back to life. I want to thank the team from the bottom of my heart for organizing this.”

For Martin Kinkead, a Ph.D. student at Queen’s University Belfast in the U.K., the program was a great way to further his research in adversarial learning. He plans to continue working with his RIT faculty mentors after returning home.

“I have really enjoyed it and it has really been the highlight of my Ph.D. studies so far,” said Kinkead. “Maybe next year we could all meet in person.”

Organizers hope to host the Visiting Student Research program again in the future, possibly in an in-person format. Go the RIT Cybersecurity Visiting Student Research program website for more information.

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