Helming Cybersecurity

Scholarship Guide DSTA Scholar Dr Tan Jiaqi

DSTA Scholar Jiaqi is a computer security researcher at DSO National Laboratories. His main areas of work are in programme analysis and verification, and most of his time at work involves thinking of ways to better analyse software to search automatically for security bugs and to verify that a piece of software is safe and free from bugs.

Choosing The DSTA Scholarship

As his father was working in the precursor to the present-day DSTA, Jiaqi was ­exposed to military and defence ­technology from a young age. His father would share about the role technology played in the military, and how that technology was ­carefully cultivated and nurtured.

‘Through my father, I was introduced to computers at an early age. When I was in primary school, I reproduced a piece of QBASIC code from a magazine published by Science Centre Singapore and I was very excited to realise that changing parts of the code will alter the way the programme works. From there, my curiosity for how computers and software worked grew. In my secondary school years, I tinkered with Linux and tried to network the old computers at home. I then decided that I must study Computer Science in university.’

With this passion, Jiaqi feels that ­taking up the DSTA Scholarship is the best ­decision. He finds it meaningful to be able to contribute to the country’s defence through the application of science and the development of technology.

Learning At DSO

During his undergraduate studies, ­Jiaqi completed a short internship at DSO. He had the opportunity to carry out short research projects related to some of the current DSO projects that his internship supervisors were working on. Jiaqi had first-hand experience in developing new technical ideas and concepts and was invigorated by this process in research and development.

He completed two projects. The first one was to extend a machine learning ­algorithm from a 2D version to 3D ­inputs. One of the main challenges with this ­project was in the large amount of computation ­required for a 3D simulation of the algorithm as compared to the original 2D version, and his project mentor provided many useful suggestions to help optimise the code to make it scalable for execution.

The second project was to explore the use of virtual machine monitors on computer systems to provide security. It ­involved using specialised software called virtual machines to isolate dangerous software that may contain viruses. The challenges with this project included the execution of measurements in the ­computer software, and the amount of software setup required. To overcome these challenges, Jiaqi explored various scripting techniques to enable reproducible and efficient ­experimentation and the use of interesting low-level measurement tools such as ­processor ­performance counters.

Through his internship, Jiaqi felt that working in DSO would give him the best opportunity to dive deep into technical solutions. He wanted to do hands-on work with the technology itself and work with code, programmes, and algorithms on a daily basis.

Currently, Jiaqi focuses on cybersecurity problems in his work at DSO.

‘While the challenges in cybersecurity today stem from insecure software that cannot be rewritten overnight, as researchers, we have to think of ways to work towards solutions. Computers have revolutionised the lives of billions of people over the last two to three decades, but that progress could be wiped out if the existing cybersecurity problems are not solved. This is the challenge which motivates me in my work.’

DSTA Scholarship
Attained: PhD (Electrical & Computer Engineering) from Carnegie Mellon University
Now: Senior Member of Technical Staff, Information Division, DSO National Laboratories
From: Hwa Chong JC

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