Student profile: Michael Yip
What was your academic path before coming to the Web Science DTC 4 year MSc/PhD programme?
My interest in the Web came from my very first use of the Web to communicate with my friends at an early age. I was fascinated by this technology and saw that there was so much room for the Web to improve. From then on, I decided that I would pursue a career in engineering the future of the Web. Subsequently, I decided to join the Aston University where I obtained my undergraduate degree in BEng Internet Engineering with first class honour.
Prior to joining the Web Science DTC, I completed a Master’s degree in Computer Security with distinction and best student award at the University of Birmingham. My study was funded by a EPSRC studentship awarded by the university.
Why did you choose Web Science?
During my study in Computer Security, I realised that security problems cannot be solved by technologies alone. Rather, it is just as critical to understand the users of the security solutions. While in search for a PhD position, I came across the Web Science DTC and I found that the problem of cybersecurity is in fact aligned with Web Science, which is to study the web in an interdisciplinary manner. Thus, I applied for the Web Science DTC without hesitation.
Best experience of the course so far?
Overall, the MSc Web Science has introduced me to some unique insights into the workings of the web, much of which I never knew before. This has given me a solid foundation on which I can build on in my PhD. The best experience so far for me must be the unique chance of working with the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) whom were very supportive of the project and have taught me a great deal about the current state of cybersecurity.
What was your MSc Project?
The title of my MSc project is “An investigation into Chinese cybercrime and the underground economy in comparison with the West”. The project was supported by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). I was invited to make a poster presentation to present my findings at the Royal Society Satellite Meeting and was invited to give talks at SOCA, Netcraft and the Security Group at the Computer Laboratory, University of Cambridge.
With 420 million Internet users, China has become the world’s largest Internet population and the Chinese cyber-security has become globally significant. In this investigation, cybercrimes in China were studied from both sociological and technical perspectives using an array of methods including literature review, passive monitoring of online forums and interest groups as well as establishing direct contact with the Chinese cybercriminals.
Hacking was found to be immensely popular in China with a population of 3.8 million registered users spanning across just 19 online hacker forums. Financial and political factors were found to be the main motivations for Chinese cybercriminals. Observations from the Chinese hacktivist forums during recent Chinese cyber-attacks against Japan has brought to light some valuable insights into the true state of hacktivism in China and the level of tolerance from the Chinese government towards such actions.
Furthermore, it was found that not only do organised cybercrimes exist in China but also an underground economy as sophisticated as that in the West is flourishing at a rapid pace. Estimates from Chinese security experts suggest that the size of the Chinese underground economy may be much larger than that observed in the West. With the support of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), the frameworks of organised cybercrime as observed in the West were compared with those observed in China. Significant similarities and differences were found including differences in the tools of trade used and some of the pricing of goods and services advertised in the underground economy. A generic mapping of the underground economy was deduced from the comparison of frameworks.
What is your PhD Project?
The research area for my PhD is cybersecurity and cybercrime. One of the areas I am currently looking at is the social networks of organised crime on the web.
I have worked as a web developer for Travelzoo(HK) as a summer intern and I was subsequently employed as a freelancer by Travelzoo(HK) during my study in Computer Security.
What are your Career ambitions?
I am confident that upon the completion of my PhD, I will be well equipped to embark on a career in cybersecurity research and contribute to making the web a safer place so that the normal users can enjoy the many useful functionalities of the web which will continue to benefit humanity.