Doctoral Student Named Digital Forensics “Grand Champion”
Can Yildizli, a doctoral student in computer science, has won the Department of Defense (DoD) Cyber Crime Center (DC3) Digital Forensics Challenge 2011, placing first among 1,147 contestants worldwide. Yildizli was named “Grand Champion” with a score of 4,789—1,257 points ahead of the nearest competitor.
The annual DC3 Digital Forensics Challenge is a global, online competition that requires contestants to solve increasingly difficult problems involving password cracking, detecting evidence of intrusion, finding hidden data in music and video files, and other cyber security challenges.
Yildizli won, in part, by developing six new software programs, which the DoD can now use to thwart cyber crime attempts. He entered the challenge as an individual competitor under the name LoneWolf and bested teams from all 50 states and 52 countries, including 354 academic teams, 593 civilian teams, 72 commercial teams, 64 government teams, and 64 military teams.
“The results illustrate Can’s potential and what he can accomplish as part of his doctoral studies,” said Bulent Yener, who is Yildizli’s adviser. A professor in the Department of Computer Science, Yener also serves as director of the Data Science Research Center and co-director of the Center for Pervasive Computing and Networking.
“We are proud and excited to have Can at Rensselaer,” Yener added. “He could have gone anywhere, but he chose to pursue his Ph.D. here.”
A native of Turkey, Yildizli earned his master’s in computer science and engineering from Sabanci University in Istanbul. He met Yener four years ago at Technical University of Berlin (TU Berlin). At the time, Yener was an EU Marie Curie Fellow, and Yildizli was attending TU Berlin as the recipient of an Erasmus Mundus Master Scholarship in Computer Simulations for Science and Engineering-COSSE.
During conversations, they discovered a shared interest in the topic that is now the focus of Yildizli’s research: how to battle malicious software (malware) and prevent and disarm botnets. Also known as zombie armies, botnets are collections of computers that have been infected with malware and networked via a single server. The malware then instructs the individual computers, or bots, to disseminate spam or participate in other types of cyber attacks.
Despite his skill at digital forensics, Yildizli does not consider that to be his principal area of research. He entered the DC3 Digital Forensics Challenge primarily because, he says, “I enjoy a challenge and, if you’re going to collect evidence, it helps to know the ways of the attackers.”
As Grand Champion, he was recognized at the DoD Cyber Crime Conference 2012 last month and will receive a tour of the International Multilateral Partnership against Cyber Threats facility in Cyberjaya, Malaysia.