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Updated: 33 min 11 sec ago

Gang Wang receives CAREER Award to thwart email phishing attacks

Fri, 2018-05-18 10:31

Worldwide, billions of users have been affected by cyberattacks born of socially engineered email offensives that cause everything from mild inconveniences to putting human lives at risk when resources such as hospitals and government agencies are compromised.

Gang Wang, an assistant professor of computer science in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development Award (CAREER) to develop methods to thwart increasingly disruptive and dangerous cybersecurity threats from phishing attacks.

Wang will use the five-year grant, totaling $538,522, to create novel techniques that combine human intelligence and machine learning to combat real-world phishing attacks.
“Right now, automated detection systems run by algorithms tend to let questionable emails go through because false detections can be costly to users,” said Wang. “Think about all the email you receive in a day and how frustrated you would be if you were constantly missing important messages. What I am hoping to accomplish with this grant is to combine the nuance of human understanding in the smaller amount of emails that are questionable and develop techniques to help machines more easily uncover new attacks while maintaining the reliability of the system.”
The crux of the email phishing problem is twofold. While machines are excellent at combing through huge amounts of data very quickly, they are not good at detecting nuanced cues humans could otherwise readily detect. Secondly, no matter how sophisticated the machine learning models that are employed, advanced machine learning models only use historical data and are ineffective at detecting new threats that invariably pop up.

In some cases it may take only one or two emails to breach a large system.

Wang’s project has three broad goals: develop new measurement tools to automatically diagnose vulnerabilities in the existing phishing defense for email and social network systems; create novel machine learning interpretation techniques to drastically enhance users’ ability for phishing detection; and identify new crowdsourcing methods to produce reliable and real-time phishing alerts.

Wang’s preliminary results showed that carefully crafted phishing emails can penetrate most existing defenses, including Gmail, Outlook, and iCloud, leaving users exposed to phishing without any warnings. He based his findings on a scanning of 1 million domains and a penetration test on 35 email services.

Wang will study the effectiveness of his techniques using automated methods to block the massive phishing attacks with clear malicious signals while delivering the small portion of uncertain messages to users for further investigation. To improve the user ability of phishing detection, he will investigate fundamental techniques to translate machine learning results to human-interpretable semantics to assist users’ decision-making. The crowdsourced user results will then be aggregated to produce real-time phishing alerts for the broad Internet community.
Established in 1995, the NSF CAREER Award is the most prestigious award given by the NSF in support of junior faculty who demonstrate the potential to effectively integrate research and education.

Written by Amy Loeffler

Two Department of Computer Science students receive Graduate School Awards

Tue, 2018-04-24 15:06

Two Computer Science graduate students were recipients of annual awards presented by the graduate school at Virginia Tech on March 29.

Rachel Kohler, a recent master’s recipient, received the William Preston Thesis Award which recognizes the outstanding MS thesis in STEM.  Kohler’s thesis research was supervised by Kurt Luther,
>assistant professor of computer science and director of the Crowd Intelligence Lab. Her research examined the problem of geolocating images and videos through crowdsourcing.

Gustavo Arango Argoty, a doctoral student, received the award for Outstanding Doctoral Student in an Interdisciplinary Program. Arango is advised by Liqing Zhang.  His research focuses on developing tools—including web services, deep learning, crowdsourcing and NLP strategies—to accelerate and improve the detection andquantification of antimicrobial resistance genes from metagenomics data.

Congratulations to all our graduates!

Virginia Tech alumnus to speak about the new age of blockchain technology March 20

Mon, 2018-03-19 15:44

Virginia Tech computer science alumnus Dan Larimer ’03 is at the epicenter of the development of blockchain technology as a force for decentralizing transactions in a digital world with seemingly endless applications. Larimer, the chief technical officer of, has shepherded blockchains’ adoption across industries and leads efforts that seek to develop high performance smart contracts.

Larimer will lead a discussion on Virginia Tech’s Blacksburg campus March 20 in Torgersen Hall room 2150 at 7 p.m. Free pizza and beverages will be provided. The event is hosted by the student-run Virginia Tech chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery.

Larimer will share his experiences as a serial entrepreneur at the forefront of cultural change and emerging technologies, specifically blockchain technology, with reference to its scalability and engineering challenges and the importance of the technology to drive innovation in a multitude of fields.
A pioneer of blockchain technology, Larimer has been working in the blockchain space for years and is the creator of EOS.IO, a blockchain technology that rivals the scale and scope of all prior blockchains.

Previously Larimer focused on developing innovative technologies ranging from virtual reality simulators to second-generation crypto currencies, most notably BitShares. He is a specialist in software development and the inventor of the widely adopted “Proof of Stake” and “Decentralized Autonomous Corporations” concepts.

Computer science graduate lives motto of Ut Prosim every day in Haiti

Tue, 2018-03-06 11:39

In Haiti, the workday starts early, at 4 a.m.

The sun won’t be fully out for several more hours when Mario Calixte, an alumnus of Virginia Tech and member of the Hokie Nation,
heads to his day job in the bustle of motorbikes, pedestrians, and burros that jockey for space in the morning traffic in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

Calixte, who has a bachelor’s degree from the College of Engineering in computer science and a master’s in instructional design and technology from the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, works at the Ecole Supérieure d’Infotronique d’Haïti, where he advises students and develops curriculums for those who attend the country’s flagship university.

But that’s just one of his jobs.

Read more.


Matthew Hicks named assistant professor in Department of Computer Science

Tue, 2018-03-06 10:07

Matthew Hicks has been appointed as an assistant professor of computer science in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering. He is one of 27 new faculty members hired by the college for the 2017-18 academic year.

Hicks’ research seeks to address challenges in developing improved security of low-level hardware code, hardware devices for security systems, battery-less devices, and approximate computing techniques used in studying machine energy efficiency. Findings of his lab have been used by military contractors, hardware security startups, and have inspired others in the fields of security and academia to devise code analysis techniques aimed at uncovering malicious hardware.

Prior to coming to Virginia Tech, Hicks was a member of the technical staff at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory, where he conducted research in a hardware security research group that served as the intersection between academia and the defense industry. Before his appointment at the Lincoln Laboratory, Hicks was a lecturer at the University of Michigan, where he taught courses on security and programming.

In 2016, Hicks won the IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy Distinguished Paper Award and was a finalist in the Pwnie Awards for Most Innovative Research.

Hicks earned a bachelor’s in computer science from the University of Central Florida in 2006, a master’s in 2008, and a doctorate in 2013; both in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Written by Amy Loeffler