Doctoral student Syed Ali Qasim and Irfan Ahmed, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science and director of VCU Engineering’s Security and Forensics Engineering (SAFE) lab.
Doctoral student Syed Ali Qasim and Irfan Ahmed, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science and director of VCU Engineering’s Security and Forensics Engineering (SAFE) lab.

Doctoral student takes top honors at major digital forensics conference

A doctoral student in VCU’s Department of Computer Science was lead author of a study named best student paper at one of the world’s top digital forensics conferences.

Syed Ali Qasim, a second-year Ph.D. student, received this honor at the 20th annual Digital Forensics Research Conference. The conference took place July 20-24. It was held virtually in response to travel restrictions brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

Qasim’s adviser is Irfan Ahmed, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science and director of VCU Engineering’s Security and Forensics Engineering (SAFE) lab.

The paper, titled “Control Logic Forensics Framework using Built-in Decompiler of Engineering Software in Industrial Control Systems,” presents digital forensics methods to defend against attacks on critical U.S. infrastructure. Often these attacks come from malware such as Stuxnet and pose a serious threat to nuclear plants and power grid stations.

Qasim’s research focused on attacks that transfer malicious control logic to programmable logic controllers over a network. It presented protocols that enable forensic investigators to recover malicious control logic from the network traffic dump, and further transform it into a high-level source for forensic analysis.

“This award clearly recognizes the high quality and importance of Qasim’s research. He is developing new digital forensic capabilities for industrial control systems, which will help law enforcement agencies to investigate cyberattacks on our critical infrastructure,” Ahmed said.

Qasim’s research was supported in part by the Virginia Commonwealth Cyber Initiative and the Oak Ridge Associated Universities Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Award.

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