ResearchTSSG News

A day in the life of a postdoctoral researcher

By 17th September 2020 No Comments

Pictured: Dr. Alberto Huertas Celdran, Postdoctoral researcher in TSSG.


How long have you been working in TSSG?

I have worked in TSSG for the last 2 years as a postdoctoral researcher.


What previous experience do you have?

In 2017 I finished my Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Murcia (Spain). After that, I started working as a postdoctoral researcher, mainly focused in cybersecurity research. During my Ph.D. journey and after defending my thesis, I spent several months visiting international universities (the University of Pennsylvania, in the USA, and the University of Newcastle, in Australia) and companies (NEC Laboratories Europe, in Germany, and Nextworks Srl, in Italy). I also had the opportunity to collaborate with worldwide recognised researchers to improve my personal and professional skills. Almost one year after finishing my Ph.D., I moved to Telecommunications Software & Systems Group (TSSG) at the Waterford Institute of Technology (in Ireland) to keep working in the cybersecurity field and improve my knowledge around artificial intelligence techniques.


How and why you got into cybersecurity research?

While studying for my BSc in Computer Science at the University of Murcia, I developed a keen interest in cybersecurity. I started taking my first professional steps in this direction. During my dissertation work, I mostly studied how cybersecurity could be applied to IoT devices using RFID and NFC technology.

After my bachelor’s, I pursued a Master by Research Degree in New Technologies in Computer Science. It allowed me to keep working on cybersecurity, which increased my interest in that area and focused my attention on gaining knowledge on privacy-preserving solutions in situational and contextual awareness.

The work performed in my master dissertation was the basis of my Ph.D. thesis. I enjoyed those years because I learned and got experience in cybersecurity, trusted and privacy-preserving mechanisms applied to 5G networks, while also traveling across Europe to meet and collaborate with prestigious researchers working on H2020 projects.

Nowadays, I firmly believe that cybersecurity is a critical aspect of the cyberworld. Each year, it will gain more and more relevance due to the evolution of technology and its integration into our lives.


What research projects you’re currently working on?

One of the most promising research projects that I am leading is focused on cybersecurity applied to Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCI). This is a fascinating research line due to the relevance that BCI is getting in many different scenarios, such as medical, entertainment, military, etc. The main objective of this project is to study and analyse the vulnerabilities of current BCI’s, to propose, detect, and mitigate potential cyberattacks affecting interfaces and sensitive data (toughs, decisions, actions, beliefs, likes, etc.) physical integrity of subjects. More in depth, we are proposing new cyberattacks that affect invasive BCI’s that are able to stimulate neural activity. Ongoing cutting-edge projects and devices, such as Neuralink, have demonstrated their feasibility to record, stimulate, and inhibit the activity of single neurons or small groups of them. However, some vulnerabilities of those systems open the door to cyberattacks able to take control of these devices and affect the physical integrity of subjects. Another research line of this project is focused on cybersecurity concerns of non-invasive BCI’s, proposing new cyberattacks able to influence the correct neural recording of those interfaces. Future steps in this project will be focused on designing and deploying mechanisms to detect and mitigate previous and coming cyberattacks affecting BCI’s.

Another relevant project that I am leading is oriented to provide secure and trusted military scenarios. The main goal of this project is to enable trusted and reliable intra- and inter-domain scenarios in IoT mobile wireless sensor networks (WSN). This project targets the detection of misconfigurations and cyberattacks entailing sensors misbehaviours that may affect the trust level of individual and multiple nodes of WSN’s. Both privacy-preserving federated and explainable artificial intelligence techniques are research targets and key parts of this project. The WSN trust level will be managed under a certain valid range thanks to risk mitigation actions that will be enforced on-demand. The project will be deployed and evaluated in a 5G-based mobile WSN scenario, where intra- and inter-domain trust aspects will be considered to measure the framework performance.


What areas do you see yourself working on in the future?

In the future, I plan to develop a solid, important, recognised research in the fields of security, trust, and privacy applied to BCI, WSN, and other challenging scenarios that will appear.

What were the big and little wins you have had in this role?

During the last two years working at TSSG as a postdoctoral researcher, I have learned and improved many different things from a personal perspective and reached several milestones in my professional career.

From a personal point of view, the best “win” that I will keep in my mind for the rest of my days is the great opportunity of discovering such a beautiful country as Ireland. It is difficult to get used to the Irish weather (more for someone coming from the southeast of Spain), but the cheerful Irish people supply the lack of sun. I will always remember the experiences lived and lessons learned after working with colleagues as professional as Frances Cleary, always trying to help with a smile on her the face, and my colleagues in the office Michael, Geoflly, Daniel, Grainne, Bruna, and Caio, with our exciting lunchtime discussions, thanks to all of you and the rest of the TSSG family.

From the professional point of view, the most important milestones reached for the last two years working at TSSG can be summarized in the following way:

– 14 Publications in journals of the JCR index (Q1: 8, Q2: 5, Q3: 1), and 2 in the SJR index.

– 7 Publication in international and national conferences.

– 2 Book chapters.

– 2 Best paper awards in international and national conferences.

– 2 Transference research awards from university to industry (in collaboration with the University of Murcia and Telefonica).

– 1 Secondment at the University of Newcastle (Australia).

– Supervision of 3 Ph.D. students and 5 bachelor & master students.

– Contributions to prepare of 5 European projects.

– Several collaborations with researchers from different parts of the world such as Spain, Estonia, Australia, Scotland, or Slovenia, among others.


What are the challenging and enjoyable aspects of being a researcher in your field?

For me, the work of a “cybersecurity researcher” is the perfect one. On the one hand, it allows you to contribute and improve our current and future society to avoid cyberattacks. On the other hand, it gives you enough freedom and flexibility to work in the field you like, at the location that you love, and with the people you learn from. In my case, I love the flexibility that this work gives me, allowing me to travel across the world while working and contributing with my little grain of sand.


Outline why your research is necessary for the end user: i.e. what are the benefits, how will it improve the current state?

Cybersecurity is critical in many different fields and contexts of the cyberworld. In the BCI field, the cybersecurity aspect is in an early and immature stage. Cybersecurity has not been considered as a critical aspect of BCI’s until recent years, where terms such as neuro-security, neuro-privacy, neuro-confidentiality, brain-hacking, or neuro-ethics have emerged. The existing literature has detected specific cybersecurity attacks affecting BCI integrity, confidentiality, availability, and safety, but they do not perform a comprehensive analysis and miss relevant. Furthermore, the expansion of BCI to new markets, e.g., video games or entertainment, generates great risks in data confidentiality. In this context, users’ personal information, such as thoughts, emotions, sexual orientation, or religious beliefs, is under threat if cybersecurity measures are not adopted. The technological revolution of recent years, combined with movements such as the IoT, brings an acceleration in creating new devices lacking cybersecurity standards and solutions based on the concepts of security-by-design and privacy-by-design. This revolution also brings to reality disruptive scenarios such as direct communications between brains, known as BtB or Brainets, and brains connected to the Internet (BtI), which will require essential efforts from the cybersecurity prism. In this evolution, the benefits of having cybersecurity mechanisms that avoid, detect, and mitigate cyberattacks affecting BCI are very relevant and critical to make it possible in the real-world.