Anna Fita (MICS) and Vibhor Seghal (MIMS) have been awarded the 2020–21 Curtis B. Smith Cybersecurity Fellowship. The Curtis B. Smith Cybersecurity Fellowship supports high-achieving students enrolled in any degree program at the School of Information who have an interest in the field of cybersecurity or a research focus on cybersecurity.
Vibhor Sehgal will graduate from the Master’s of Information Management program in the spring of 2021. Sehgal holds a Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology from Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in New Delhi, and as a MIMS student, he’s maintained an outstanding academic record while making significant progress in understanding and disrupting mis- and dis-information concerning the Covid pandemic and the U.S. election.
Sehgal worked as a graduate student researcher with Associate Dean and Head of School Hany Farid, cleaning, analyzing, and visualizing data collected through web scraping. The project, cheekily named ‘Guilt by Association,’ analyzed the hyperlink network of news websites in an effort to help provide users with reliable information about the online news sites they visit.
“Attending Dr. Farid’s class in my first semester where he talked about his research projects and his vision to make the internet a safer and reliable place was one of the biggest inspirations for me,” said Seghal. “I closely followed his research and talks for over a year.” When he found out Dr. Farid would be beginning new research in collaboration with Avast software focusing on fake news, Seghal leaped at the opportunity to become involved, excited for the chance to help tackle a societal problem. Sehgal says he is grateful for the opportunity to work with Dr. Farid and the researchers at Avast, and for the Smith Fellowship.
After graduation, Sehgal hopes to go on to pursue a doctorate in computer science, and, he says, hopes through his research he can give back to society and inspire others to leverage computer science for the betterment of the world. “I can’t wait to learn more from this industry and fellow researchers,” he said.
Anna Fita completed her Master of Information and Cybersecurity at the School of Information in the fall of 2020. Fita has over 12 years of experience supporting criminal, cyber, counter-intel and counter-terrorism investigations at the FBI as a language analyst and for the past five years, in cyber operations and as an adjunct faculty instructor specializing in open-source intelligence (OSINT) and operations security (OPSEC).
Fita’s capstone project, PII-Xpunger, which won the MICS Capstone Video Award, was a team effort that reflected the interdisciplinary foundation of the MICS program. The project was designed to raise public and legislative awareness to the extent of exposure of sensitive PII collected from public sources by data aggregators, allowing for easy manipulation in a wide array of malicious scenarios and leaving millions of often unaware data owners vulnerable on a continual basis. Unlike high profile cybersecurity breaches that usually get media and public attention, this type of persistent implicit breach is not as easily remediable as changing one’s email and/or password, since PII like “name, age, address, family associates” is immutably associated with the individual.
“The idea behind PII-Xpunger,” Fita said, “is to visually show individuals just how much of their sensitive PII is freely available and easily accessible on the Internet often without their knowledge or consent, and to help them remove it, either automatically through our app or by proceeding with suggested manual steps.”
Fita wants U.S. legislators to prioritize individual privacy protection in view of rapidly developing technology that has been outpacing discussions on ethical implications and potentially irremediable consequences if this persistent data “leak” is not brought under stringent regulatory control.
“My time as a MICS student,” Fita said, “has been a most rewarding, empowering, and humbling experience, far surpassing my expectations for when I had enrolled in this program, as high as they were. The MICS program helped me understand cybersecurity as an evolving ecosystem not limited to its technical components with opportunities extended well outside technical applications. Cybersecurity is a fascinating, still quite unchartered territory in all its potential ramifications, and its role is only going to be more defining and critical with the advent of emerging technologies.”