First UK ICT Student Presents at National Conference on Undergraduate Research

Photo of David Jake Willis
Willis presented his research on behavior based wireless surveillance at NCUR on April 7.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 14, 2017) — David Jake Willis, a University of Kentucky student in the College of Communication and Information, is the first information communication technology (ICT) major invited to attend the 2017 National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR).

NCUR is an annual conference for champions and practitioners dedicated to undergraduate research, scholarship and creativity in all fields of study. The conference receives more than 4,000 abstract submissions from students in a variety of disciplines every year. This year, 60 UK students were selected by the UK Office of Undergraduate Research to attend NCUR from April 6-8 at the University of Memphis in Tennessee, Willis among them.

His research on behavior based wireless surveillance got its start last semester in the ICT ColLab, a research laboratory aimed at engineering solutions in networking, cybersecurity, human-computer interaction, social computing and related fields, under the direction of Michail Tsikerdekis, assistant professor of information communication technology in the School of Information Science and ColLab director.

“Jake is an excellent collaborator and shows great commitment for insightful research," Tsikerdekis said. "He committed to exploring the ideas we established when we set this project up.”

In brief, the project introduces a framework that enables an investigator to track a person of interest (POI) over time and allows them to establish a timeline without having to rely on Internet Protocol (IP) or media access control (MAC) addresses as identifiers. The framework can be applied to cases of surveillance where investigators need to monitor a POI passively.

“Surveillance as it is performed on the internet or on telecommunication networks go beyond wiretapping a suspect’s phone or a security video system,” Willis said. “It can affect anyone who uses a smartphone, computer, internet of things (IoT) device, social media or transmits pictures, and even medical information, regardless of whether or not they are suspected of a crime.”

Willis began testing a variety of techniques on wireless networks that could be used to collect information about network users without their knowledge. For example, he used already existing tools like Aircrack, a toolset used to assess Wi-Fi network security, and Pyshark, a Python library, to test evil twin attacks and packet analysis, respectively.

“It was surprising to learn how so much information can be discovered from even just simple performance characteristics like wireless signal intensity. The reception or transmission of a laptop using Wi-Fi for example could be used to locate it relative to a sensor like a wireless access point,” Willis said.

In the future, Willis plans to expand the research and try similar packet analysis techniques on Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service (UMTS) networks that are used by AT&T and T-Mobile, in addition to air interfaces other than Wi-Fi. To add, Willis hopes to make related open source contributions and seeks to eventually publish this research.

Willis presented his research behavior based wireless surveillance at the University of Memphis on Friday, April 7. 

“I believe as a student and professional he has the core elements required to be successful in the IT industry, not merely using technologies but having the passion for coding and for developing new solutions that aim to improve the current state of the art. I am extremely proud of Jake,” Tsikerdekis said.

The School of Library and Information Science in the College of Communication and Information at UK became the School of Information Science on July 1, 2015. The name change follows the expansion of programs at the school (both at the graduate and undergraduate level) and the increasing diversity of professions in the information field. The Instructional Communication and Research program became a part of the school in 2013, and the Information Communication Technology program debuted in 2014. The school offers a M.S. in Library Science, School Media Certification, M.S. in Information Communication Technology, B.A./B.S. in Information Communication Technology and an undergraduate minor in information studies


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