Fun-filled and knowledge-enriching experience at New York university, Abu Dhabi!

As rightly said, “you get the most when you expect the least!”. While the memories of my first international trip to the United States of America didn’t fade away, I had another opportunity in hand, thanks to my supercool advisor, Dr. PK. I had visited University at Buffalo as a Research Assistant (June – Aug ’13) under the guidance of Prof. H. R. Rao. The experience was enriching! (curious ones can read my blog here! :-)) This time, it was New York University, Abu Dhabi as a Research Assistant for 8 long months! It was different from previous one in terms of duration and responsibilities (Well, I’m a PhD student now ;-))

I was working in joint collaboration with Prof. Mustaque Ahamad, one of the top names in our security research community and Payas Gupta, Research Scientist at NYUAD. Everything was pretty much set before flying to Abu Dhabi, thanks to Payas for doing the needful. I got a perfect adieu from friends and colleagues, here in India, with CERC’s evening get-together. On October 19, 2014, I left to live a new dream awaiting me, bidding goodbyes to family. The journey was pretty much smooth and I settled down well, admiring my new apartment, in the campus itself. Evening was spent exploring the new destination and gearing up for the next day.

Next morning started with the campus tour, followed by setting up a few admin things to get started. Post-lunch, I met Dr. Husrev Taha Sencar, senior Research Scientist and CRISSP (Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Security and Privacy) manager. CRISSP had people (researchers, post-docs, masters, research engineers) from various departments and interests, very much aligned with our center CERC, here in IIITD. I met some passionate researchers in the lab working on cool and interesting stuff. CRISSP, NYUAD had a pretty descent and cordial working environment. I made friends within no time and started enjoying my work. I remember having a lot of technical discussions with people around, during a cup of coffee, and was always amazed and fascinated with their perspectives. Payas, always bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, was an amazing mentor and friend. He helped in resolving challenges encountered while solving a research problem. An ardent work-alcoholic himself, he taught me how one should love one’s own work! I’m glad we got along really well and could work some good problems 🙂 I got lucky with Mustaque visiting Abu Dhabi for a couple of weeks, an exuberant personality in his own, and we synergized quite well. Needless to say, my skills honed working with an experienced researcher and guide like him. We used to chat for long hours and it was a fabulous experience to understand how he approached a problem.

Apart from work, I had a lot of fun in Abu Dhabi too; PK’s surprise visit with family, my family’s visit, dinner outings with Mustaque and Payas, CRISSP outings, and usual hanging around with some amazing friends I made there. Not to forget, I even had an unexpected, fantastic international birthday bash 🙂 It worked as a catalyst to impart energy and impetus to work. Overall, it was an invaluable experience, both personally and professionally and the learnings would remain with me for a long time! I would like to extend special thanks to PK, Mustaque, and Payas for giving me this wonderful opportunity and ever-lasting support, encouragement, and guidance making it even more memorable.

Below is the picture during one of the fun-filled evening with Mehfuz (Mustaque’s wife), Taha, Mustaque, and Payas.

 

Moments for life! My first International trip to USA

Well, it’s been 2 months since I returned from the United States of America but it all still looks fresh as I sit down to put it in words! 🙂

It was about a year back that I learnt my plausible visit to the University at Buffalo (UB), NY and the news left me all afluttered! As much as I was excited for my first international travel to this beautiful country, my parents were equally nervous as I am known to be an over-pampered and not-so-independent girl (yea, majority including my parents think so :(). The most important thing for my travel was to get a passport! (I didn’t have one by then ;)). All the formalities for passport and visa were done within no time and I was all set to fly! The days passed by, and the excitement grew by leaps and bounds and it was just packing, packing and more packing. Finally, on June 7, 2013, I left my home at 1 AM with all the excitement and thrill. As the huge Boeing 777 was waiting for me, I bid adieu to friends and family. Within no time, I was sitting in my plane to get to my next humble abode for 2 months. As I lay down, enveloped with clouds, I suddenly realized that I am away from home for long 60 days leaving me nervous and anxious! But the very fact of freedom and independence shooed that feeling away! 😉 With a smooth continuous flight of 15 hours, rare did I know what was next in my kitty! As I sipped a cup of coffee at the large JFK airport, NY, it was announced that my connecting flight was cancelled due to bad weather. The next I got into my senses, I was running back and forth to get another flight and collect my baggage. I felt really low and disappointed to get another flight, 6 hours later and that too from a different airport. With all these glitches, finally I was standing in my apartment admiring my new room and the feeling of being in a new country altogether finally sinked in. Next was the big day, my first day at UB which was entirely a different experience.

The large campus at UB with breath-taking greens and multi-cultured people was difficult to capture in a frame. It took me nearly 2 hours to cover the whole campus. At UB, I got an opportunity to work in the Jacobs Management Centre (The word management sounds confusing but we worked in information and security! :)) under the esteemed guidance of Prof. Hejamadi Raghav Rao. Adapting to the new international setting was less of an issue, thanks to my project partner Rajarshi Chakraborty (PhD@UB) for making things easy (We had already met by then since he visited us at IIITD the previous month, lucky me!). Well, honestly there was no time to get comfortable since we had a deadline after 15 days :D. The work culture there was a little different than what is being followed in India. There were strict working hours from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM with usually free weekends. It was also different in a sense that in India we used to work together in lab (a noisy one! :D) and there I was given a separate room to work. Unfortunately, since it was a summer time, I missed meeting a lot of students in the university as most of them had gone to their native places. My research work was exciting and challenging and I enjoyed every bit of it it in the apt motivational ambience at UB. My project advisors, Prof. H.R. Rao in the US and PK, here in India, were a great support throughout. I learnt a lot of things at UB and had an opportunity of interacting with some great minds. I also got a chance to attend Western New York Cyber Security conference by ISecure, a conference for discussing the concerns arising in Information Security. Since the conference was near Niagara, I managed to get a quick short trip to the heavenly Niagara Falls. During the last week of my stay, Rajarshi offered me for a dinner at a Thai restaurant. Being a total vegetarian, I had a tough time selecting a dish for myself and end up having an eggplant (Brinjal, in simple terms, which I don’t eat in India :D). Quite an experience!

Apparently, this blog is incomplete without the mention of ‘masti’ and ‘mazaa’ I had in the US. I was lucky enough to have cousins there who helped in exploring cities like New York and Washington and visit some really beautiful places like Statue of Liberty, Madame Tassauds, Niagara Falls, Virginia beaches accompanied with loads and loads of shopping! I got a chance to witness the mind blowing fire cracker show on the Independence Day. I made new friends and did lots of chatting, dance and fun together. This trip also marked the beginning of my cooking skills (and end too for that matter :P), doing groceries and other regular stuff which I could have never imagined myself doing! 😀

Below is an image of me at Madame Tassauds with the waxed Big B! 😀
Overall, the experience was quite satisfying, both personally and professionally. I would like to thank my advisor PK and Prof. H.R Rao for giving me this wonderful opportunity. Looking forward to such exposures in life. Stay tuned! 🙂

 

My work, my pride!

Privacy in Open Government Data

As they say, ideas can be life changing… and an idea changed my life too (in a positive way, of course! :)).

It is amazing and satisfying to see how ideas turn into reality! It was an year back I, along with Mayank Gupta (B.Tech , DCE) started working on an idea which revolved around the lines of open government data and its potential malicious use. Information portals in the form of the e-governance websites (e.g., voter-id, driving license, mtnl phone directory) run by Delhi Government in India provide access to personally identifiable information (PII) of the residents of Delhi. Information like name, address, age, date of birth, voter-id, driver’s license number, and father’s name is openly and freely available. With the increase in Cyber security thefts online and increasing privacy awareness among Indian citizens, we thought it would be an interesting problem to encash. And Voila! It actually turned to be in consonance with our ideas :).

The project was planned in various phases / stages. The first phase was identifying the open government sources and going through their privacy policies to check if data collection was permissible or not. Next step was to write PHP scripts to start extracting the information. Within a month, we had approximately 8 million voter-id and 2.5 million driving license records in our local repository. We also collected data from 5 popular social networking sites viz. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Foursquare and LinkedIn. Public API calls were used to extract the data. Now the next step was to create awareness and spread it among masses. To make this possible, we developed a system which could highlight the public availability and easy accessibility of such PII. Hence, OCEAN: Open Source Collation of eGovernment data and Networks was developed and deployed on January 21, 2013. The input to the system is the name of the individual to be searched and the system returns a candidate set with same name and personal attributes associated with each individual. Interestingly, aggregation of data within the voter-id database helped in creating a family tree which connected people within a family. Below is an image which shows the family tree of Srishti Rawat (a random name, details blackened for privacy purposes).

The system is gaining popularity and has been in talks in privacy research community since its deployment.  Within a short span of time, 398 unique visitors have been recorded in the system (as on May 18, 2013). OCEAN brought lot of accolades to me, Dr. PK and Precog.

  • Article published in national daily, Hindustan (April 16, 2013) [pic attached]
  • Best poster award at IITK Security and Privacy Symposium 2013
  • Accepted poster at IBM I-care 2012, IISc Bangalore

I would also like to thank Swetank Kumar Saha, Sudip Mittal and Daksha Yadav (B.Tech, IIITD) for doing the initial thinking and simple prototype for this work.

Hopefully this effort serves as an eye-opener to general public and other stakeholders in the country.

Exciting times! Indo-UK workshop on Cyber security

Well, it was two months back I received an email from PK asking me to help him organize an Indo-UK workshop on Cyber security jointly with RCUK, India. In spite of not having the background details for it, just the word “UK” excited me to work on this. It took me not more than 5 minutes to say a big “Yes”. The next response was a set of tasks required for the same and that too in not less than 5 minutes :D. The workshop was planned for 4 days, March 24-27, 2013 to discuss the Cyber security and online security issues, both in India and UK. It all started within no time..setting up the website…lot of e-mail exchanges (With some very big people!)..designing take-away for the wokshop..handling local administrative issues. With all this heavy exercise for about 3-4 weeks, finally the workshop day was approaching.

Day 1, The Oberoi Hotel, New Delhi: Yes! You read the venue right! The workshop started at the grand 5 star hotel with beautiful scenic view from the roof top. It was a large lobby where we all assembled. Within few hours, there was an onset of the delegates, both British and Indian. The delegation was a good combination of people from Industry and research area. It started with a general introduction, few short sessions describing the landscape of Cyber security in UK and India and an interesting 60 minutes networking session to end the day well. It was two big round concentric circles with Indians taking the inner circle and UK people, on outer circle. We had 5 minute, one-to-one slot where everyone was discussing their work. I too got a golden chance to present my work to all the big dignitaries. I will take pride in saying some were really impressed! 🙂 The day finally ended with a scrumptious dinner and little planning for the next day.

Day 2, IIIT-Delhi: The delegation visited IIIT-Delhi, fascinated with the huge campus and facilities. It went with long hours of brainstorming sessions where there were 4 groups each discussing separate problems relating on and off to Cyber security. The board room looked beautiful with walls covered with multi-coloured post-it containing the gist of each discussion. After enjoying the meal, delegation went through another round of getting and giving the feedbacks to the speaker from each group. To ease the mental fatigue, at the end of the day, there was a tour to the campus, group picture and finally a visit to Barbeque Nation in the evening where everyone enjoyed the unlimited food and drinks. Another satisfying day came to an end.

Day 3, IIIT-Delhi: The morning session was yet another long session where people got shuffled within the groups and carried out the discussions! To end the workshop at IIIT-Delhi (Not the end of the workshop!), momentos were given to the delegation thanking them for their time and efforts. There was a surprise here, I got a gift from RCUK, India for helping them with the workshop. Contended! Afternoon was packing bags for Industrial visit to Infosys, Hyderabad. I was travelling with my advisor, scary and exciting. The former was justified and latter since it was my first visit with him alone! It was fun!

Day 4, Infosys, Hyderabad: It was a Holi day! The day started with presentations on history and work culture at Infosys, interesting demos of the research work being carried out, visiting the labs, interacting with the researchers. Got a chance to meet two of my undergrad friends, played Holi with them. Rejuvenating! With all this, we came back to the board room and we had one more thing in our kitty, colours to play Holi! It was pleasure playing with the UK people and my advisor himself! A day worth spending! Overall, the workshop for wonderful, both personally and professionally. It gave an outlook to the pertaining problems like threat reduction in online social media, risk analysis, privacy laws, human responses to attacks, security management, BYOD policies etc. Looking forward to many more to come!

Attached is the pic of an interesting chat with Ms. Elinor Buxton,The Royal Society as part of the networking session at Oberoi!