Computer science, engineering Ph.D. student on leave from UCSD makes 'Top 35 Young Scientist' list

Sumeet Singh is a computer science and engineering Ph.D. student on leave from UC San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering

September 8, 2006 -- Sumeet Singh has been named one of the nation's top 35 innovators under age 35 by MIT's Technology Review magazine. Singh is being honored for research he started as a Ph.D. student in Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering. The project yielded a new way to identify worm and virus attacks across the Internet or other high-speed networks almost as soon as outbreaks occur.

In addition to developing the fundamental approach – called "content sifting" – Singh was instrumental in transitioning these ideas from the lab to the marketplace. In the summer of 2004, he put his Ph.D. on hold to co-found Netsift, Inc. – a company acquired only a year later by Cisco Systems Inc. for approximately $30 million in cash and options. Sumeet currently works at Cisco Systems Inc.

"When Sumeet created the early prototypes in 2004, nearly instantaneous identification of a worm or virus outbreak across a network was widely viewed as an impossible problem," said Stefan Savage, a professor of Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering and a former NetSift, Inc. consultant.

Sumeet's contribution to this open problem in network security, however, demonstrated that you can filter heavy network traffic and both identify outbreaks almost as soon as they occur and generate a "fingerprint" or signature of the virus or worm. These signatures, typically about 40 characters in length, can be used by network engineers to block the malicious traffic or otherwise contain the outbreak.

The algorithms search for strings of 1s and 0s that occur more frequently than you would expect based on usual network activity. Within this subset of network traffic, the algorithms look for communication patterns in which the same string of characters goes from many sources to many destinations, a rare pattern in network traffic that often indicates a virus or worm outbreak.

"Once you identify the strings, you can tell everyone, 'If you see this, don't let it through'," explained George Varghese, co-founder of NetSift, Inc., and a professor of Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD's Jacobs School of Engineering who has just finished a year-long stint at Cisco Systems Inc.

Varghese and Savage serve as Singh's Ph.D. co-advisors.

As the team worked on their "content sifting" technology, they began to identify worms and viruses not yet been flagged by network security companies.

"In some cases, we detected and identified worms and viruses a few hours before existing security vendors. In other cases, we had them a few days before," said Singh.

While Singh and several other TR35 winners for 2006 focus on Internet-related issues, this year's TR35 list also includes researchers working in the fields of telecommunications, nanotechnology, biotechnology, computer hardware, software, transportation and energy research.

According the Jason Pontin, Editor-in-Chief of Technology Review: "The TR35 is an amazing group of people. Their accomplishments are likely to shape their fields for decades to come."

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The honorees are selected by the editors of the magazine in collaboration with a prestigious panel of judges from major institutions and corporations. The winners will be featured at the 2006 Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT.


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