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PhD Student Wajih Ul Hassan Wins Symantec Fellowship to Pursue Security Research

4/8/2019 9:51:00 AM By David Mercer, Illinois Computer Science

Illinois Computer Science PhD student Wajih Ul Hassan has won a fellowship from Symantec Research Labs to support his security-related work. Hassan is one of just three students worldwide to chosen for Symantec fellowships this year.
Wajih Ul Hassan says the Symantec Fellowship will allow him to build on his earlier security-related work to help investigators focus on the most serious threats..
Wajih Ul Hassan says the Symantec Fellowship will allow him to build on his earlier security-related work to help investigators focus on the most serious threats..

The fellowship follows Hassan’s recent paper on the NoDoze security-threat triage system, and he hopes to build on that research.

“I am so honored and thankful to be the recipient of this award,” he said. “This award is a recognition of my thesis research from industry which will definitely help me to achieve my career goals.”

Symantec, a cybersecurity company based in Mountain View, Calif., awards annual fellowships to outstanding PhD students whose research focuses on privacy, security, machine learning, data mining, and human factors.

Hassan was chosen along with Johannes Krupp, a student at CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security in Germany, and University of Michigan student Yixin Zou.

For the Hassan, the fellowship will provide $20,000 and a salaried internship.

He says he will work with Symantec Research Labs this summer to improve its endpoint detection and response product, and will use some of the techniques he developed for NoDoze.

NoDoze tracks the events happening in a system, judges them for how unusual they are based on the frequency with which they happen, and then uses a novel diffusion algorithm to decide whether they are suspicious. In his paper, Hassan said NoDoze was able to reduce the number of threat alerts that required attention by 84 percent.

“With the NoDoze system, I just scratched the surface and showed the significance of provenance information in threat detection and response,” he said. “This award will allow me to keep building more practical tools for enterprises that accelerate the process of cyberattack investigation and enhance attack investigator productivity.”

Hassan hopes his research will help shore up an area now considered a major vulnerability by many organizations. In a 2016 survey, RSA Security found that more than 70 percent of organizations consider their threat-detection and -response systems inadequate.

“The overarching goal of my thesis research is to improve enterprise security via data provenance techniques,” Hassan said.

Hassan’s research has been funded in part by the 2018 NSF CAREER Award won by his PhD advisor, Assistant Professor Adam Bates.

The last Illinois CS student to win a Symantec fellowship was Chi-Yao Hong in 2012.