CYBER-DEFENCE FELLOWSHIPS: Lucianna Kiffer
To promote research and education in cyber-defence, EPFL and the Cyber-Defence (CYD) Campus launched in winter 2022 the fifth call for the CYD Fellowships – A Talent Program for Cyber-Defence Research. In April of last year, the CYD evaluation committee announced the recipient of the third CYD Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship.
Lucianna Kiffer has been awarded a two-year CYD Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship, which runs from September 2022 to August 2024. The award includes a salary contribution, research and conference funds, and the opportunity to engage with experts from the CYD Campus. Lucianna started her postdoctoral research in the Computer Engineering and Networks Laboratory at ETHZ.
How did you find out about the CYD Fellowships and what motivated you to apply?
A friend came across the twitter announcement and knew I was otherwise applying to some postdoc fellowships in Switzerland and forwarded it to me. I attended the info-session zoom call (at I think 3am my time) and though my research doesn’t fit in the traditional definition of cyber security, it seemed the focus of the fellowship was broad enough that it was worth applying.
What is your CYD Fellowship project about?
Blockchain-based systems, such as cryptocurrencies, are becoming a major part of the global financial infrastructure. A blockchain is, at its core, a mechanism for storing state and performing computation across a network of machines without any centralized trust. These systems run atop global networks over the internet, responsible for disseminating protocol-level messages. The structure and operation of these networks directly impact the security and usability of these systems. This includes susceptibility to attacks that break foundational security guarantees such as network fairness, decentralization, and the ability of actors to manipulate the network. Properties of the network also directly impact user experience related to privacy, censorship, scams, and financial attacks. In my research, I perform measurement studies monitoring the conditions of current networks, and also analyze the theoretical limits that these networks operate under.
What are the advantages of conducting your master thesis/doctoral/postdoctoral project at the CYD Campus?
One of the main advantages for me in this fellowship is having access to my CYD campus mentor and his expertise, on top of my faculty mentor at ETH. In terms of both research and personal career development, having more perspectives and expertise is invaluable.
Did you as a child dream of working in cyber-defence?
No, it was not yet on my radar. Aside from coding my Myspace profile when I was 10, I did not really have exposure to computer science and programming until the end of my secondary education and it took me a couple years into my bachelors for me to realize my passion in the field and change up my studies.
What is driving you to pursue research in cyber-defence?
My interests in security are based in the curiosity of what an attacker is able to do in a system- the puzzle of what can be exploited- and also in aiding in the creation of secure systems that will be used by others.
What is the most important lesson you have learned in your scientific career so far?
The most important lesson I’ve learned so far in my career is the importance of collaboration and connections. Research is a social field and you always benefit from talking about your work and getting others’ perspectives and ideas, and by working with others you are able to accomplish more in a project.
What are you most proud of in your career to date?
I think research impact is important and I’m proud of the impact my work has had so far. One such example is a protocol I was involved in called FlyClient, which has been implemented by a couple of cryptocurrencies and helps more users be able to interact with cryptocurrency networks from light-weight devices without having to sacrifice security or trust centralized authorities.
Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing most?
One of my favorite past times is baking and learning the theory and techniques behind why recipes work and what modifications/substitutions are possible. Another hobby I’ve had for nearly 15 years is rock climbing. I enjoy the physical difficulty of it, but also figuring out challenging routes and the social aspects of the sport.
What are your expectations about the CYD Fellowship?
One of my main goals in this fellowship is to start the journey of gaining research independence in leading projects and supervising students.
Could you share some tips with future applicants who are considering applying for the CYD Fellowships?
For both the fellowship, and generally in your research career, it is important to have clear research goals and be able to come up with your research questions. It helps to keep a list of interesting questions, big and a small, that come up when you don’t have the time to work on them or don’t yet have the expertise. This list is useful when you need a new project and can help inspire an idea later when you naturally have more expertise. I think it is also important to ask for help and advice: an extra set of eyes on any application is really helpful.