© 2024 EPFL

© 2024 EPFL

To promote research and education in cyber-defence, EPFL and the Cyber-Defence (CYD) Campus launched a rolling call for Master Thesis Fellowships – A Talent Program for Cyber-Defence Research.
This month we introduce you to Simon Sommerhalder, a CYD Master Thesis Fellowship recipient, who is completing this year his Master Thesis in the Secure and Private AI Lab at ETHZ.

  • How did you find out about the CYD Fellowships and what motivated you to apply?

To be honest, I did not know at all that Cyber Defence Campus existed. It was at an apéro from ETH Cyber Group where I met Bernhard Tellenbach, the head of Cyber Security at CYD Campus “by chance” and learned about the opportunity of conducting research as a fellow.

  • What was your CYD Fellowship project about?

The goal of my project was to analyse existing network intrusion detection systems (NIDS) that make use of machine learning techniques to find out about associated challenges. This analysis was the foundation for building a novel system that we also deployed at Locked Shields 2024, the world’s largest annual cyber defence exercise.

  • What were the advantages of conducting your master thesis project at the CYD Campus?

To me, CYD Campus is a really great place to conduct research, especially if it is interdisciplinary. There are many members and peers from different fields and backgrounds that I exchanged with regularly. Additionally, CYD Campus is much closer to industry than regular academic labs and therefore can offer things that would not be possible otherwise. For example, I was able to propose my own research topic and got the platform to present the idea at a conference, which opened the door to participate at this year’s Locked Shields competition. In retrospect, I am deeply grateful for all these opportunities that CYD Campus enabled.

  • Did you as a child dream of working in cyber-defence?

No. As a child I had no exposure to cyber-related issues. At first I wanted to be a singer and when I grew up I always wanted to be a lawyer.

  • What is driving you to pursue research in cyber-defence?

For me, the most important thing isn't what field I work in. It is much more important that the work I do is meaningful and that I can make full use of my skills in pursuing a career path. So far, this has been the case with cybersecurity.

  • What is the most important lesson you have learned in your scientific career so far?

That it is worth to stick to an idea over a long period of time, even if others, and sometimes even myself, do not believe in it or think it is silly.

  • What are you most proud of in your career to date?

I am still extremely proud of my bachelor’s degree at ETH that I managed to receive with very good grades, even though I was having a really challenging time due to personal circumstances.

  • Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing most?

I spend a lot of my free time with church activities, friends, and family. Otherwise, I play the guitar and the piano and I like to sing.

  • What were your expectations about the CYD Fellowships?

I can't remember what my initial thoughts and expectations of the Fellowship were, but given all that I have been able to experience and achieve during this time, I can safely say that my expectations have been exceeded.

  • Could you share some tips with future applicants who are considering applying for the CYD Fellowships?

I would say the most important thing is to be intrinsically motivated for the research you want to do. The fellowship is not a "club of good students" who just want to look good on their CVs. I would say it's for extremely motivated students who want to put their heart and soul into an interesting project. For them, CYD offers everything from computing infrastructure to a nice workplace and countless other opportunities that would otherwise not be available.