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Recent Alumnus Vivek Nair Joins 2022 Class of Prestigious Hertz Fellows | Computer Science

New Illinois Computer Science alumnus Vivek Nair (CS BS, MCS ’21) can recall many important moments and memories on his academic path to influential cybersecurity research. These moments lasted until May, when he received the prestigious Hertz Fellowship for 2022.

Initially, there was a time when his father, Rajesh, started bringing his work laptop home when Vivek was six or seven years old. He not only played on that laptop but taught himself to code through Microsoft’s Batch scripting language.

Then, later in high school, Vivek realized the high price of an iPad, so he made the LOOP tablet – which he sold about 1,000 online. The tablet is intended to be made with cheaper features, to give it a much faster way to access the internet. Vivek sells it at $ 99 retail price.

Vivek Nair, pictured here at DEF CON, dedicates himself to cybersecurity research.
Vivek Nair, pictured here at DEF CON, dedicates himself to cybersecurity research.

In high school too, while he was taking online courses online through Stanford Online High School, Vivek lived with his parents in Singapore. He took the LOOP tablet to a maker fair and met the CEO of a small medical startup called Holmusk. The CEO approached him after being impressed with the tablet, and Vivek soon had a summer job. He was taught the work of some introductory lessons on cybersecurity in the field of healthcare, and this intrigued him enough to begin his participation in cybersecurity conferences such as DEF CON.

There was time in his 9 pm code session for CS 126 here in Illinois CS where Vivek’s undergraduate mentor and teacher assistant, Patrick Gallagher, tried to convince him not to use a goto statement in his code. Vivek said Gallagher kept his point on the run of the 20-minute repeat. But he also called Gallagher’s response “worthless” next week if Vivek used nothing other than goto statements in his code.

And there were role professors Chris Fletcher and Andrew Miller who both played on his continuing interest in cybersecurity research during his graduate studies. Vivek still works closely with Miller – who first taught him cryptography courses – through a co -teaching experience in a decentralized finance class offered online. In addition, Vivek thanked Fletcher, who teaches his graduate course in security, for helping him on his path to the PhD program he is currently enrolled in and has played an important role in shaping the direction of his PhD thesis.

But a moment above all, in terms of the impact on Vivek’s academic path to date.

“I still remember in high school when I first visited the University of Illinois, I knocked on the door of current professor emeritus Roy Campbell at the Siebel Center for Computer Science,” Vivek said. “To my surprise, he responded and welcomed me. We talked for about an hour, and he gave me a chance to tell him about myself, my interest in cybersecurity research, and what I had accomplished in the field in my high school. years. My parents had to walk around Siebel at that hour.

“Professor Campbell showed a lot of real interest in me and convinced me that I should go to Illinois. He told me he would help advise me here, and he informed me about the Cyber ​​Security Scholars Program. His interest in mine job and the way he spoke about the department was the main reason I chose to study Illinois CS.

Just three years later, at the age of 19, Vivek has completed his Computer Science Master’s degree, one of the youngest to do so in the department.

In retrospect, Nair believes these opportunities led him to become a worthy candidate for the Hertz Fellowship, which will provide $ 250,000 in funding over the next five years to continue his pursuit of cybersecurity research.

His hope is that many Illinois CS students will see themselves in the same way, as accomplished computer scientists worthy of the lofty purpose.

Looking ahead, Vivek remains most interested in the use of cybersecurity at the national level. He works with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and, frankly, wants to continue the line of work after completing his PhD.

That’s because he believes the technology there is advanced and best fulfills its purpose of using cybersecurity techniques to directly help others.

Headshot of new alumnus Vivek Nair, outside in front of the waters with mountainous land behind.  Nair was wearing a winter coat.
Nair is “no longer happy” to learn more about the Hertz Fellowship community as he joins as a partner.

“Even though I enjoy working in entrepreneurial and industrial spaces, what I enjoy in academic cybersecurity research and working with the DoD is that I get the immediate satisfaction of seeing how my work works. benefited others, ”Vivek said. “Keeping people safe from cyber threats is a huge motivation for me, and cybersecurity is a visible way to make this an experience because working in this area directly helps people. “

At a time when most everyone is feeling the impact of digital security in some way, shape, or form, Vivek’s dedication to the field has proven beneficial over the years.

It started before college, when he recalled first becoming interested in cybersecurity due to a widespread attack that used the SIM card of a cell phone to bypass two-factor authentication.

Vivek has created a company called to use virtual phones for subscribers, creating a phone number that they can use for two-factor authentication. The safety net comes in the form of a virtual phone, which, of course, has no SIM card. Vivek wrote his first patent based on this invention in 2016 and went on to file at least 10 additional patents in the field of cybersecurity. He has added his 11 patents to the list of more than 3,000 filed by Hertz Fellows since the program began in 1963.

Today, he continues to discover new solutions in the area through his PhD work at UC Berkeley and as a researcher at Cornell’s Initiative for Cryptocurrencies and Contracts. Vivek studied new ways to use modern cryptography to engineer adversaries against common digital threats, and in 2022 he was awarded the Tong Leong Lim Pre-Doctoral Prize-awarded annually in Berkeley student who obtained the highest difference on the pre-doctoral examination. As a recipient of the National Science Foundation CyberCorps® Scholarship and NPSC Fellowship, he has worked closely with the DoD to build robust cyber systems and address urgent security threats to the nation.

This work, he said, can only be enhanced by the new Hertz Fellowship.

“Receiving the Hertz Fellowship is a great honor,” Nair said. “In large part, that’s because of the size of many former colleagues; these include winners of MacArthur Fellowships, Fields Medal, National Medal of Science, National Medal of Technology, Turing Award, and Nobel Prize. These are the people now that I have the opportunity to connect with, and I couldn’t be more excited.

“In addition, Hertz is an organization that is very focused on national security, to the point that we promise to be available to our country in times of crisis. This is, of course, something that is very much in line with my own. enthusiasm for what I am looking for in this field. ”

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