© 2020 Zuowen Wang

© 2020 Zuowen Wang

To promote research and education in cyber-defence, EPFL and the Cyber-Defence (CYD) Campus launched jointly in spring 2020 the first call for the CYD Fellowships – A Talent Program for Cyber-Defence Research. In June 2020, the first three CYD fellowships were awarded.

This month we will introduce you to Zuowen Wang, the recipient of the first CYD Master Thesis Fellowship. Zuowen is in the second year of his Master studies in the Department of Computer Science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich (ETHZ).

  1. How did you find out about the CYD Fellowships and what motivated you to apply?
  • A friend forwarded an email to me about the call for CYD Fellowships applications. The project I was conducting during my bachelor studies at ETHZ was at the intersection between general information security and data science. More precisely, that project was about adversarial machine learning. Since I had experience in this related domain, I thought it would be a good opportunity to apply for the CYD Master Thesis Fellowship.

  1. What is your CYD Fellowship project about?
  • It is more or less a continuation of my previous research interests, namely, adversarial machine learning. However, this time the goal is to strengthen our understanding rather than only proposing a defence method. We will first do empirical studies to shed light on the theory supporting our findings.

  1. What are the advantages of conducting your master thesis project at the CYD Campus?
  • Being granted a CYD Master Thesis Fellowship is already a great honour. Although I just started the project at the CYD Campus in Zurich, I can already sense the atmosphere of conducting top-tier research. I have chances to connect and brainstorm with experienced professionals who work in the same or similar research domains as I do. This is a unique opportunity. Last, but not least, I have a very attentive CYD Campus mentor, namely Dr Gérôme Bovet, with whom I have regular meetings. We exchange research ideas and discuss the progress of my project often.

  1. Did you dream of working in cyber-defence as a child?
  • When I was a child I was not exposed to cyber-defence topics. This field always involves a hypothetical adversary, whether it is military or civilian, which was not part of my pre-university education. During my childhood, I also experienced a lack of public awareness in cyber security, whose promotion is actually one of the targeted objectives of the CYD Campus.

  1. What is driving you to pursue research in cyber-defense?
  • The course “Information Security” I took at ETHZ raised my interest in this subject. I was particularly interested in the cryptography part, formally verified protocols, etc. The ideas discussed during the course were simply stunning to me. Most importantly, I liked it when a guest lecturer introduced us to deep learning with differential privacy. This helped me to familiarize myself with the privacy and security problems in the current prospering machine learning research.

  1. What is the most important lesson you have learned in your scientific career so far?
  • So far, discussing my ideas with others has been the best thing I could benefit from. These discussions always help me a lot in pushing myself to refine and polish my ideas. Even if the people I speak to are not from the exact same field as I am, their different expertise prompts me to think about new ideas.

  1. What are you most proud of in your career to date?
  • As I move into my Master project, I gain more and more skills and knowledge. This knowledge is sparks new ideas continuously. Sometimes I read doctoral students’ work and realize that I have ideas on a similar tier as theirs. These moments give me motivation and make me look forward to my future doctoral studies.

  1. Outside the lab, what do you enjoy doing most?
  • I enjoy cooking Chinese food. However, sometimes it can be very time-consuming because collecting all the typical Chinese ingredients is not that easy in Zurich. Thus, as an alternative, I also enjoy watching videos of professional chefs. I also play a bit of piano and guitar.

  1. What are your expectations about the CYD Fellowships?
  • I hope that during this fellowship period I have the opportunity to improve our understanding of adversarial machine learning. I hope that this project can lead us to new defence designs. Of course, we also aim to publish, but at the end, publications are just a by-product of interesting ideas, careful thinking, and hard work.

  1. Could you share some tips with future applicants who are considering applying for the CYD Fellowships?
  • For CYD Master Thesis Fellowship applicants, I would recommend that if they are determined to devote six months of their student time working on an excellent project, then they should not hesitate to apply! The project period can be very demanding. Delivering outstanding work, however, is rarely an easy task!