By Sherry DiBari
Samuel Le, an Old Dominion University cybersecurity major, and Chunsheng Xin, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the ODU School of Cybersecurity, developed a small, Arduino-chipped device - often called a "rubber ducky" - to exploit computers.
They tested the device by overriding a computer's settings to create a new user password with administration privileges.
"Being able to inject code into a chip and then have it wirelessly transfer over to another one and then go into the computer is one of the coolest things I've seen in a while," Le said.
Le was one of nine Hampton Roads NROTC Consortium students selected to participate in hands-on cybersecurity research training through ODU's School of Cybersecurity.
A three-year, $250,000 grant from the Office of Naval Research made it possible.
Students from the Consortium - which includes ODU, Norfolk State University, Hampton University, Regent University and Tidewater Community College - worked with professors and doctoral students at the School of Cybersecurity for 10 hours a week over a 12-week span.
Michael Wu, director of the School of Cybersecurity, explained that cybersecurity plays an important role in the Navy's future workforce.
"The U.S. Navy is facing urgent needs for cybersecurity workforce development, and at same time, cybersecurity is such a fast-evolving field," Wu said. "We want students to learn not only the basic principles and skills, but also advanced cybersecurity research capacity, so that they can discover new abilities and to deal with new complicated cyberattacks in the future."
Most of the students began the program with no experience in research or cybersecurity technology.
"We teach the students how to conduct quality research, and how to use the cybersecurity platforms in our facilities," Wu said. "After that, the students work with a faculty member on cutting-edge research projects.
"It's amazing to see how the program has transformed the students and increased their research capacity in cybersecurity."
Jonathan Andres, an electrical engineering major at ODU, applied for the assistantship to get a head start on his naval career.
"It gave me a chance to understand technology better," he said. "That's going to affect my naval service, and how to lead properly and know the technology that we'll be using in the future."
Andres' research project - the expansion of 5g millimeter wavelength frequencies - is relevant to both military and civilian applications.
"Broadband, as we're coming to know is becoming more and more crowded," he explained. "Everyone has at least one, if not five, devices and they all need to connect to the internet. Accessing millimeter waves allows for less traffic so people can get their information faster."
For Andres, the best part of the internship has been the research.
"It's kind of a thorn and a rose at the same time," he said. "You'll get stuck, and you'll wonder, 'How do I fix this problem?' But when you solve the problem, it's quite rewarding."
Shawn Collins, an information systems and technology major at ODU, is a full-time student and an active-duty sailor.
Collins' research used machine learning and analytics to recognize pushed advertisements on mobile and computing devices. He helped to successfully create a program to cancel advertisements without human interaction.
"We have already achieved over 95% efficiency on the model recognizing and blocking those advertisements," he said.
During the project, Collins honed his research and writing skills as well.
His first research paper - written as part of the project - was recently accepted for publication for an IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) conference."I learned a lot, and I was challenged a lot, during the course of this internship," Collins said. "I had little to no knowledge of coding when I started."