Cyber Security Engineering alum leads student to cybersolutions

November 4, 2019   /   by Ryley McGinnis

We all work to protect our personal information, but with today’s technology, our medical devices, such as insulin pumps, are more vulnerable than ever to cyber-attacks.

Inova Health information security analyst Matthew Wilkes, BS Cyber Security Engineering ’18, is guiding two cybersecurity senior design teams to find solutions to these new problems while preparing them for careers in the field. “These projects were created to challenge engineering students,” says Wilkes.

The teams are looking at different devices. One is examining insulin pumps, which are wirelessly connected to our phones while the other is looking at an infusion pump, which can be wirelessly adjusted. This pump controls the delivery of fluids, such as nutrients and medications, into patients’ bodies.

Both teams are tasked with finding vulnerabilities in these devices, pinpointing ways that cyber-attackers get into their devices, and coming up with different solutions to protect or monitor cyber-attacks.

“One big flaw that we predict is that insulin pumps now connect with your cell phones and that can be extremely exploitive. These products are designed for functionality, not security,” says Evan Simon, a cyber security major and member of the insulin pump team. And the same holds true for the infusion pump team.

Wilkes was a part of the first class of cybersecurity graduates from Mason Engineering, and he says it has been a fulfilling experience working with undergraduates at his alma mater. “The students are extremely intelligent, very interactive, and have shown a desire to succeed in the cybersecurity field. They’ve asked intriguing questions and have shown a desire to prove themselves.” 

Both teams pointed to Wilkes as a crucial guide to navigate their first real-world cybersecurity project.

“He tries to push us in the right direction, but he wants us to come up with our own solutions to the problem,” says David Nguyen, a member of the infusion pump team.

Since this is new territory in the field, Wilkes wants to challenge the students to find the best solution so that they are prepared for careers in cybersecurity. “I want to ensure they’re encouraged to be successful in both their project and beyond. I won’t make it easy for them because if it was easy every student could do it,” says Wilkes. “Any student who graduates from Mason with a degree in cyber security engineering has very high expectations.”

Next semester the students will be working on implementing their research, designing their solutions, and testing them, which will pose challenges for both teams, but Wilkes stresses the importance of being prepared for challenges.

“We’re only human so we will make mistakes, but how do you learn from those mistakes? Have a backup plan if something goes wrong,” says Wilkes.