"Uninvited Guests” Wins National Security Agency Award

Researchers pictured l-r Brian Kondracki, PhD; Prof. Nick Nikiforakis; Johnny So(PhD Candidate)
Researchers pictured l-r Brian Kondracki, PhD; Prof. Nick Nikiforakis; Johnny So(PhD Candidate)

The National Security Agency (NSA) recently honored the innovative work of Stony Brook University researchers Brian Kondracki, PhD, Johnny So (PhD candidate), and Professor Nick Nikiforakis. NSA’s 11th Annual Best Scientific Cybersecurity Paper award was given to the team for their paper, Uninvited Guests: Analyzing the Identity and Behavior of Certificate Transparency Bots.

Gil Herrera, NSA’s Director of Research, said “This paper was selected as the winner because the researchers performed high-level, clearly written, and impactful science.” He added, “It is the cutting-edge and relatable research that has made the paper stand out as the winner of this year’s competition.”

The winning paper focused on autonomous systems which probe newly instantiated websites. The Stony Brook researchers identified tens of thousands of malicious bots engaged in suspect activities such as data exfiltration, reconnaissance, and vulnerability exploitation. To do this, they developed Certificate Transparency Honeypot (CTPOT), the first honeypot studying attackers who identify victims using the Certificate Transparency mechanism used by modern websites and Certificate Authorities. The paper contributes to enhancing security within devices, computers, and systems through rigorous research and documentation.

Adam Tagert, Technical Director of the NSA’s Science of Security Initiative, added that the paper was noteworthy because of the “high quality of documentation allows for others to verify and build upon this research advancement.” One of the main objectives of the NSA Science of Security Program is to advance science, and clear and accessible documentation is essential to this process.

NSA established this competition in order to encourage development of the scientific foundations of cybersecurity. Papers that show an outstanding contribution to cybersecurity are nominated and evaluated by a panel of distinguished experts.

As we celebrate this achievement, the Department of Computer Science recognizes that its legacy extends beyond academia – it directly impacts the security of our digital lives.


-Sahil Sarna