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Engineering professor awarded coveted 2021 Microsoft Security Research AI Award

Engineering professor awarded coveted 2021 Microsoft Security Research AI Award

August 26, 2021 at 5:05pm

Amin Kharraz was recently awarded a Microsoft collaborative research grant, which will allow him to serve as a lead collaborator in the tech giant’s M365 Security & Compliance Research Division. 

Kharraz—assistant professor at the Knight Foundation School of Computing and Information Sciences within FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing—will receive $150,000 in grant funding to conduct innovative research in cybersecurity as part of the Microsoft Security AI (MSecAI) Research Program (RFP). 

“All of us in the College of Engineering and Computing congratulate Dr. Kharraz on this prestigious award,” said John L. Volakis, dean of the college. It’s great to see Microsoft awarding our talent, right here in Miami, where we are endeavoring to make South Florida the new Silicon Valley.” 

The MSecAI RFP is a new collaborative research program that began in 2020. The goal of the Microsoft research project is to spark new artificial intelligence (AI) research endeavors in different areas of “phish” protection to better understand emerging social engineering threats, their underlying landscape and provide improved consumer security assets in the face of increasingly sophisticated attacksKharraz’s proposal titled WEBHASH: A Spatio-Temporal Deep Learning Approach for Detecting Social Engineering Attacks was one of two winning submissions. 

“The goals outlined in Kharraz’s impressive proposal are highly innovative and promise to be impactful to the protection against the social engineering attacks we are seeing today," said Jugal Parikhthe applied research manager at Microsoft. “We are excited to work with him on what we are sure will be a very successful collaboration that will garner significant solutions to persisting vulnerabilities.” 

Kharraz joined the Knight Foundation School of Computing and Information Sciences as an assistant professor in the fall of 2020 and is already making a big impact in cybersecurity education and research. He leads the Systems Security Lab (SecLab), where he focuses on building systems to study security problems, including evasive malware attacks, applications and web attacks, social engineering and cybercrime.  

“I am truly honored to receive this very selective award from the Microsoft Security Research AI team,” Kharraz said. “Together we will tackle evasive threats that emerge and evolve very quickly, much like the COVID19-themed attacks that emerged during the global pandemic. Many businesses — including financial institutions, hospitals, and research firms — were not very well-equipped to protect themselves and their employees from these attacks and were highly impacted.”  

The depth and breadth of these attacks strengthen demands for the urgent development of new techniques to protect users and services that play pivotal roles in society. Agile attackers continue to have the upper hand as the attack space is very diverse, and adversaries can rapidly change their strategies. This level of flexibility on the attacker side has put defenders at a distinct disadvantage to keep pace in formulating a response and protecting the society. Kharraz’s work will focus on building new techniques to improve defense agility against these threats by automatically identifying temporal drifts and detecting emerging trends in the social engineering attack landscape. 

“We are very proud of Kharraz’s talents and delighted that he has been selected to develop a new defense and response platform against modern phishing attacks. The potential impact of the project will be broad in scope. By incorporating low-latency detection and mitigation platforms, like WebHash, we can better protect organizations and institutions from many data breaches and significantly reduce users’ exposure to modern social engineering attacks,” said Jason Liu, interim director of the Knight Foundation School of Computing and Information Sciences. “He is a very talented researcher, and we are delighted to have him as part of our school. It is faculty members like him and others at our school who are raising the bar in research and education every day.”