Computer Science Students Earn Top Awards

Dr. Kevin Hamlen and Frederico Araujo

Kevin Hamlen and Frederico Araujo

UT Dallas computer science students continue to impress with their technical prowess in cybersecurity. Top awards recently were earned at the 11th annual New York University Polytechnic School Cyber Security Awareness Week (CSAW) conference and at the Capital One Coding for Good Hackathon competition.

“Our students have shown time and again that the program at UT Dallas can compete on the national and international level, and win,” said Dr. Gopal Gupta, head of the Department of Computer Science in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “Through the work of the Cyber Security Research and Education Institute and its many specialized faculty, we are raising the next generation of cybersecurity specialists.”

Best Applied Research Paper

Frederico Araujo, a PhD student in software engineering, placed second for Best Applied Research Paper at CSAW for his work with Dr. Kevin Hamlen, associate professor of computer science, on using honey-patches to ensnare potential cyberattackers. Researchers from the Technische Universität Darmstadt co-authored the paper.

Araujo presented his work to a panel of senior security experts from corporations including IBM Watson, Bank of America, Yahoo, Lockheed Martin and the National Security Agency. The paper offers new techniques for dealing with security flaws in computer patches.

Conventional software security patches advertise that a system has been fixed after repairing vulnerabilities. As a result, cybercriminals can easily search for unpatched software and focus their attacks on more susceptible targets. Unlike traditional patches, the honey-patches described in Araujo’s paper fix software security vulnerabilities in a way that makes failed cyberattacks appear successful. The traps deceive, waylay, misinform and monitor criminal activities, warning defenders before the attacker can find an actual vulnerable system.

“It’s a very important recognition for the work. This is the largest student-run cybersecurity event in North America, and the nomination process just to get to the finals is highly selective,” Araujo said. “I learned a lot just by having the opportunity to speak with experts and present our work.”

This is the second time in three years that UT Dallas has made the final three in the CSAW competition. Richard Wartell PhD’12 took second place for his work on automated security retrofitting of binary software in 2012.

Capital One Coding for Good Hackathon

From left, Nelson Leduc, Justin Ehlert, Steve Wozniak, Alex Gwyn and Colin Campbell

Steve Wozniak (center), co-founder of Apple, poses with students, from left, Nelson LeDuc, Justin Ehlert, Alex Gwyn and Colin Campbell at the Capital One Coding for Good Hackathon.

Two UT Dallas teams tied for first place at the Capital One Coding for Good Hackathon, which focused on using programming as a tool for teaching financial literacy. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak served as a panel judge of the teams’ efforts and ultimately helped decide that the two teams should share first place.

Team FinanSir, composed of undergraduates Justin Ehlert, Colin Campbell, Alex Gwyn and Nelson LeDuc, created a mobile app that offers financial advice based on a person’s past spending habits. Sriram Chandrasekaran, Ethan Honeycutt, Somasundaram Ardhanareeswaran and Vinesh Venkat’s Team Sparen created an educational game to introduce the basics of personal finance to a target audience of 10- to 15-year-olds.

“Creating a product in a rarely innovative category like finance and having Steve Wozniak personally approve our idea and implementation was an awesome experience,” said Ehlert, FinanSir team lead and computer science undergraduate.

The winning teams received $5,000 and new iPad Minis signed by Steve Wozniak.

4th Annual TexasSecurity Awareness Week

The UT Dallas’ Cyber Security Research and Education Institute (CSI) hosted its 4th Annual Texas Security Awareness Week (TexSAW) in October. Forty people from six Texas schools attended the event that featured workshops on Web security, protecting servers from cyberattacks and exploit development. John South, chief security office for Heartland Payments Systems, was the keynote speaker.

Dr. Kamil Sarac, an associate professor in the Department of Computer Science and CSI director of education, organized TexSAW. He said a highlight of TexSAW was when students participated in a mini capture-the-flag competition that required solving more than 20 challenges in various areas of cybersecurity including cryptography, Web security, exploitation and reverse engineering. Two students from Abilene Christian University took first place.

“The success of our students shows that UT Dallas has developed an exceptional and comprehensive program in cybersecurity that includes not only research but also education and cyber exercises,” said Dr. Bhavani Thuraisingham, director of CSI and a Louis Beecherl Jr. Distinguished Professor. “Our goal is to provide outstanding contributions to the academic, government and industrial communities by producing highly qualified cybersecurity professionals.” 

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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