Making the Web More Secure

Computer Science Professor Nick Nikiforakis Receives Amazon Research Award

Professor Nick Nikiforakis of the Department of Computer Science (CS) in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences has received an Amazon Research Award (ARA) for his work in the area of Internet security. His project, ICBots: Tools and Techniques for Detecting Web Bots, was chosen to receive funding in the category security, privacy and abuse prevention.

“Nick is a rising star in cybersecurity research. He and his students have made several inroads in understanding web security and privacy issues,” said Samir Das, chair of the CS department. “His Amazon Research Award not only recognizes his expertise but also supports his explorations in detecting malicious web bots to make the web more secure.”

Many web bots are benign. For instance, without bots there searching Google would not exist. Malicious web bots, however, are used for a variety of nefarious purposes including the exploitation of stolen credentials to log in to as many online assets as possible, in order to steal private information, money, or even air miles.

Affiliated with Stony Brook’s National Security Institute, Nikiforakis is noted for his work with practical, hands-on security and privacy. Much of that focus has been measuring online abuse and developing countermeasures against unwanted tracking.

Professor Nikiforakis’ ICBots project builds websites that exist only for the purpose of attracting web bots. These bots are then “fingerprinted” and tracked to identify which are malicious so they can be dealt with.

“Receiving an Amazon Research Award puts our project in very select company with many of the most well-respected academic institutions around the world,” said Professor Nikiforakis. “Amazon’s support for these types of efforts will help lead to more effective protections against bad actors online.”

Security, privacy and abuse prevention is one of twelve categories of the Amazon Research Award. Grants of up to $80,000 are awarded. Academic institutions worldwide are eligible and collaboration and sharing of insights is facilitated among the recipients to benefit the entire scientific community.

About the Researcher

Professor Nikiforakis is in his fifth year at Stony Brook University. In addition to unwanted tracking, he is actively researching a number of security topics including analysis of online ecosystems, understanding domain squatting, remote server assessment, and phishing and web application attacks. In 2018, he received an NSF CRI grant to tackle tech support scams and in 2017 WIRED covered his team’s work in this area as well. Nikiforakis earned his PhD in computer science from KU Leuven in Belgium; and an MSc in parallel and distributed systems and BSc in computer science from the University of Crete, Greece.

- Dick Wolfe