Efe Aras: Secure Cyberspace

2017 NAE Duke Grand Challenge Scholar Profile

  • Major: Electrical and Computer Engineering 
  • Grand Challenge: Secure Cyberspace
  • GC Advisor: Professor Galen Reeves 
  • Project Title: Securing the Internet of Things 

Efe Aras

How did you become interested in the Grand Challenge Scholars Program?

I wanted to do a project related to security, and I already had fulfilled the some of the requirements, so I figured that the Grand Challenge Scholars program would give me the final push to do a project while still challenging me. For me, it seemed like my interests and opportunities made this program a good fit. good fit.

What is the highlight of your experience with the Grand Challenge Scholars?

My favorite part was the service component. I was a teacher in an organization called Duke Splash, which brings in high school students who are interested in engineering and they attend classes taught by Duke students, so I was able to integrate that experience into the service aspect of my project. For the first semester I taught a course about information, and the second semester I taught everyone about applied math. It was a really fun opportunity for me, so I’d say it was the highlight of the GCS experience.

What is your Grand Challenge Scholars project?

I ended up taking a course on algorithmic privacy, and Professor Ashwin Machanavajjhala was teaching it, and I realized it was perfect for me in terms of my own interests and how it applied to security and privacy.The project I worked on with Professor Ashwin focused on keeping data secure and anonymous. For example, let’s say you have a large amount of data, and that data might not have names or identities attached to it, but if you have any prior knowledge or expectation about what you’ll find, then the data is no longer technically secure. I used existing literature to determine how to add numbers and 'noise' to these data sets in a unique way, which would then make it harder to accurately narrow down identifying markers while still ensuring that any error in the data set isn't too large. 

How would you say your experience with the Grand Challenge program has prepared you going forward?

To me, what differentiates engineering from other sciences like math or statistics is that engineering is very focused on dealing with real-life problems. The Grand Challenge program recognizes that, and you’re encouraged to participate in a lot of interdisciplinary programs that can offer multiple perspectives about problem solving and engineering. My experiences have shown me that to truly solve a problem, you need to understand both the theoretical basis and the practical solutions.

Would you recommend this program to students who may be interested in applying?

Definitely. I think this experience really showed me the importance of trial and error. It was all about learning how to try things and figuring out how to improve on things when they failed or didn’t go as you expected. I also think it’s helpful for people who are pursuing advanced degrees because it’s all great practical experience.