NYU Center for Cybersecurity Intern Captures Prestigious Intel International Science and Engineering Fair Prize

At the 2018 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, high school student Suha Hussain took home a second-place prize of $1,500 in the Systems Software category for her project “A New Method for the Exploitation of Speech Recognition Systems," which she completed under the direction of Tandon Professor Ramesh Karri, who co-chairs NYU’s Center for Cybersecurity (CCS), and Tandon Ph.D. candidate Zahra Ghodsi.

Hussain, a rising senior at Queens High School for the Sciences at York College, has interned at the CCS since the end of her sophomore year, thanks to meeting and impressing Karri at the 2017 New York City Science and Engineering Fair (NYCSEF) — an event at which she was named a semifinalist in the Mathematical Sciences category.  

In addition to the systems-software prize, her voice-recognition paper garnered the GoDaddy Data Award, the Association for Computing Machinery Fourth Award, the National Security Agency Second Science Security Award, and the Shanghai STEM Cloud Award.    

“The recent surge in the performance of speech recognition has led to the rapid proliferation and adoption of a variety of its applications. However, possible vulnerabilities within these systems have the potential to be rather critical,” she wrote, explaining the importance of her work. “Previous research has shown how components of speech recognition applications such as preprocessing and hardware can be leveraged by malicious actors. However, a method leveraging neural networks used inside of speech recognition systems is notably absent.” Hussain set out to fill that gap, developing a method of crafting noises that could be inconspicuously added to the input to deliberately cause misclassification by malefactors.

In addition to her CCS internship, Hussain has completed a hardware engineering internship at Vengo Labs, where she assisted in rapid prototyping for product development, and she runs several organizations at Queens High School for the Sciences, including a robotics team, a cybersecurity team, and a group aimed at supporting women in STEM.  She accomplishes all this while maintaining an academic average of 98 in her courses — each of them an honors or advanced-placement offering.

“I believe in working at the intersection of engineering and art/media to spark change,” she has said. “Expanding the limits of human progress and making the universe a safer place is what I want to do with my life.”

Karri has no doubt she will be successful. “Suha is a shining example of what a bright, motivated student can do when she sets her mind to it and works hard,” he asserts. “Whatever she ends up studying and whatever career path she chooses, she will certainly make her mark.”