For the first time, graduate students from the School of Public Policy have advanced to the Cybersecurity Demo Day finale sponsored by the Institute for Information Security & Privacy.
The event, scheduled for Thursday, April 12, 2018, allows students to pitch their cybersecurity research ideas to business leaders and compete for prizes. Winners will receive up to $125,000 in cash and prizes, including a spot in the Create-X Startup LAUNCH incubator and eligibility for a National Science Foundation grant.
Two teams from the School of Public Policy, a unit of the Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts, will be among seven teams competing in the finale. This is the first time the School has been represented in the contest.
Projects Focus on ‘Internet of Things’
One team, comprised of Majid Ahmadi, a Ph.D. student in Public Policy, and Hanif Rahbari, his colleague at Virginia Tech, received the most votes among 19 teams in the preliminary phase of the contest, held in September, for their project, “Tackling Cybersecurity Threats in Smart Grids.”
They won $500 and advanced to Thursday’s round in the commercialization track, meant to help students learn to identify their market and customers in coaching led by National Science Foundation I-Corps and VentureLab.
They propose to use randomization techniques to conceal the true nature of wireless traffic coming from smart homes and other Internet of Things installations, helping protect the often sensitive information exchanged over those networks.
“Companies that want to sell smart home technologies can highly benefit from this solution, since using it will enhance the resiliency of their technologies significantly,” Ahmadi said. “Especially companies that offer home automation solutions need to show to their customers that their packages have the highest security level.”
The second School of Public Policy team is comprised of graduate students Karim Farhat, Karl Grindal, and Ishan Mehta. They seek to develop a security management dashboard for Internet of Things devices.
They came in third in the preliminary phase and also won $500, advancing to the finale in the research track, meant to help students gain funding and get coaching in presentation skills.
The April 12 event is the culmination of months of work for the students that began in the fall with a poster presentation. The groups then met monthly, during which time they received entrepreneurial coaching from VentureLab.
The annual contest is designed to help students begin to move their ideas from an academic setting into a commercial one, said Wenke Lee, co-executive director of the IISP and the John P. Imlay Jr., Chair of Software and professor of computer science in the College of Computing at Georgia Tech.
“We hold the IISP Cybersecurity Demo Day each year to help students learn how to present their ideas to others outside of a research setting or academic conference, and begin to build relationships with those who can advise or fund great ideas,” Lee said. “I’m pleased that so many students — from across four Schools — entered this year. It is both a testament to their interest in moving good ideas out of Georgia Tech for real-world impacts and also evidence that cybersecurity is no longer just a computer programmer’s problem.”
School of Public Policy Provided Good Foundation, Competitor Says
Ahmadi said he was excited to be part of the competition.
“Being able to talk about an innovative solution and getting feedback from experts in the field is really valuable,” he said. “It’s also my honor to represent the School of Public Policy in this competition, which usually is dominated by students with computer engineering background.
"I have an engineering background, too, but my graduate studies at the School of Public Policy have provided me the opportunity to obtain a more comprehensive view about existing issues, and this is where I have found multidisciplinary resources provided at the School very useful,” Ahmadi said.