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DSU education leads to research opportunities

January 4, 2022

Tarek Abdelmotaleb Ahmed is making the most of his DSU experience, from classes to research projects.
Tarek Abdelmotaleb Ahmed is making the most of his DSU experience, from classes to research projects.

Dakota State had everything Tarek Abdelmotaleb Ahmed was looking for when he was searching for a college.

“I was looking for a university that was teaching computer security, more from the programming side, about software exploitation, and wireless telecommunication,” he said.

“Dakota State was exactly what I was looking for.”

Abdelmotaleb Ahmed came to Madison from his home country of Egypt and is making the most of his education through research opportunities at DSU.

As an undergraduate, he received a Student Research Initiative (SRI) grant in 2020 to research “A Novel C2 Protocol Using CSS Hex Color Codes and HTTP Cookies.”

He completed his bachelor’s degree in the summer of 2021 and is now working toward a master’s degree in Computer Science with a specialization in Cyber Operations.

He is also continuing research efforts with a graduate research grant (GRI), studying “Cutting-Edge Antivirus Evasion at Runtime.” He works with advisor Dr. Bramwell Brizendine on the project, and as a graduate assistant in the VERONA Labs.

Abdelmotaleb Ahmed explained that the goals of the projects are the same – to evade antiviruses – but the approaches are different. The SRI project was about evading firewalls; the GRI work is more about antivirus products.

There are a lot of people who try to evade the security of antiviruses so they can learn more about the system security, he said, but this research will help with offensive security, creating new technology to evade these security measures.

“The purpose of the project is to harden systems, and find ways to improve security,” Abdelmotaleb Ahmed said, with the end goal to patch security holes and improve security so malicious people will not do damage.

“We hack it to improve security,” he stated. 

Students who work on these projects see the academic world of research, Brizendine said, and this can lead to career opportunities at national labs, or additional academic offerings at DSU. After graduation, Abdelmotaleb Ahmed hopes to find a job in security research.

“Employers definitely value students who complete these research projects and have impressive projects that showcase the variety of their talents,” Brizendine said, including soft skills. “SRI and GRI projects definitely allow students to sharpen and hone their skills to communicate effectively with a wide range of individuals.”

Abdelmotaleb Ahmed uses these soft skills in other ways, such as a recent presentation on malware for the DSU Malware Club.

“The level of difficulty and sophistication was very impressive,” Brizendine said of the 70-minute presentation. “It could have been intimidating but was inspirational,” he said. “Peer-to-peer resonates more with students, and sets a good example.”

Abdelmotaleb Ahmed has also received special permission to tutor reverse engineering, with lots of positive feedback.

“This made a significant difference in the lives of students he tutored,” Brizendine said.

“I hope so,” Abdelmotaleb Ahmed stated.

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