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Designing secure networks

Ms Lauren Goh signs up for a master’s degree at SUTD so she can help develop Singapore into a more cyber-resilient Smart Nation

Ms Lauren Goh advises prospective students to never stop learning as cybersecurity threats are ever evolving.
PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

It is good practice to leave no stone unturned when it comes to designing the security of a system or network. And Ms Lauren Goh is well on her way to becoming proficient in doing so.

The 24-year-old is currently pursuing a part-time two-year Master of Science in Security by Design (MSSD) at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD).

She matriculated for the inaugural programme, which saw about 30 enrolments last September.

Ms Goh's interest in the field of cybersecurity was sparked during her undergraduate studies in Engineering Systems and Design (ESD), also at SUTD.

Then, she learnt about systems analysis and business optimisation, and enjoyed the practical design experience gained during coursework. She especially enjoy-ed making things work to meet the needs of end-users.

Now, the MSSD's focus on "security-by-design" trains her to take various factors, such as human elements, into account when designing a secure system or network.

"This is important when malicious attacks are always happening, so continuous testing, authentication safeguards and keeping up to date with the latest developments in cybersecurity is necessary," she says.

Learning and application

In her master's degree programme, Ms Goh found that she enjoyed the modules on Computer Networks and Foundations of Cybersecurity most.

They helped her better understand obscure security elements and apply them to her everyday digital activity.

For instance, she now double-checks the Uniform Resource Locator (URL) of each e-commerce website to ensure that it is not vulnerable to phishing attacks that steal consumers' personal information such as credit card details.

She also shares her knowledge with her friends and advises them on devising more secure passwords for greater cyber security.

She also learnt about end-to-end encryption for the popular messaging application WhatsApp, and website security of HTML5 sites.

"I personally feel that it is immensely important to acquire and share security knowledge with others to help build a more cyber-resilient, Smart Nation Singapore," she says.

The MSSD also focuses on security for cyber-physical systems (CPS), which are systems controlled or monitored by computer-based algorithms and frequently integrated with the Internet and accessible by multiple users.

She hopes to hone her skills in this area to navigate the complex interplay of hardware and software protocols.

Currently a research officer at iTrust, a multidisciplinary research centre in the university, she is working on a project to improve CPS security in water distribution systems.

She conducts experiments under the supervision of a professor and a post-doctoral researcher who are experts in water systems engineering, modelling and design. Through the process, she also puts into practice the theories she learns in her project.

She appreciates the familial atmosphere among the faculty, staff and researchers at iTrust who are all passionate about their work and open to sharing and collaboration.

"It is fun and rewarding to learn about state-of-the-art cybersecurity technology and contribute to technological evolution," she says.

Securing her future

With the demand for cybersecurity experts rising, Ms Goh is glad that her master's degree will give her a foundation in crucial cybersecurity concepts and methodologies, as well as numerous networking opportunities with industry experts.

She hopes to contribute to the field through her thesis research.

"The MSSD trains me to solve cybersecurity challenges using a multidisciplinary approach, especially CPS systems with their complex interplay of hardware and software," she says.

The key to success is being an independent and active learner, she adds.

She advises prospective students to never stop learning as cybersecurity threats are ever evolving.

It is also no longer possible for cybersecurity experts to work in a silo environment.

"This is especially true for CPS security or systems that incorporate a large network of Internet of Things devices, where it is important to work with hardware engineers and system engineers to develop a robust and realistic multidisciplinary solution," she explains.

She also hopes to form a professional cybersecurity community with her MSSD coursemates and advises maintaining contact with industry professionals from different fields such as engineering.

"This will help cybersecurity professionals and the community remain buoyant and relevant," she says.

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