University Scholar Venkat Venkatakrishnan
Venkat Venkatakrishnan is a cyber crime-fighter.
“Cyber attacks happen every day,” said Venkatakrishnan, professor of computer science. “When you visit a website, there is the potential that malicious software could be downloaded onto your computer that can then control it and use it for criminal activity or to steal your identity.”
It’s Venkatakrishnan’s job to develop methods to protect enterprises, government sites and others from these attacks. He has received more than $13 million in federal research grants for his work.
“Venkat is an outstanding researcher in the field of cybersecurity, and has led UIC to achieve preeminence in this area of national importance,” Peter Nelson, dean of the College of Engineering, wrote in his nominating letter. “His research work has tremendous real-world significance, and he is a thought leader in computer security.”
Venkatakrishnan’s interest in cyber crime developed from his passion for mathematics and computer science.
“I’ve learned about a lot of things in computer science by looking at them through the lens of cyber security problems,” he said. “The breadth and beauty of computer science makes me feel fortunate to be a student of the discipline.”
In addition to his research, Venkatakrishnan teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in cyber security and undergraduate courses in compilers and programming languages.
He keeps his students engaged in the coursework by explaining broader ideas, then illustrating them with specific problems in cyber security.
“I talk about everything around the problem, including the methods that the attackers or cyber criminals might use and how we, as defenders, could prevent these attacks from happening,” he said.
“Teaching is a very useful and necessary exercise for becoming a better researcher. If I cannot explain a problem in class, that means I have not understood it deeply enough.”
In 2011, Venkatakrishnan created a Ph.D. program on electronic security and privacy that was funded by the National Science Foundation IGERT award. UIC is one of just three universities nationally to receive an IGERT award for cybersecurity.
“In order to create and sustain a program like that, there are several challenges,” he said. “I enjoy finding new opportunities in a challenging setting. That’s what, I think, keeps me going.”
He’s also created new UIC courses and led the development of cybersecurity concentrations at the undergraduate, graduate and doctoral levels.
Through the 13 years he has worked at UIC, Venkatakrishnan has enjoyed collaborating with colleagues within and outside computer science.
“To engage in collaborative endeavors is something that I continue to enjoy and am proud of the results from such efforts,” he said.