Like everyone else, Yuen Jien Soo found himself struggling to adapt when Covid-19 first hit last year. Soo, who teaches operating systems, computer organisation, and software product engineering at NUS Computing, initially found it strange “speaking to himself” without anyone to look at while delivering a lecture. But something else troubled the associate professor even more: students were complaining that online lectures “weren’t engaging” and “didn’t feel like a regular classroom.”
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In this second of the AskST series on university education, The Straits Times looks at how to pick the right institution and course of study.
Q: It is good to have a choice of six local universities, but what should my son look out for in making the choice, other than ensuring that the university offers the computing degree course he wants to pursue?A: Computing is a good course to study, given the rise of Industry 4.0, which refers to a new phase in industrial revolution that focuses heavily on interconnectivity, automation, machine learning and real-time data.
Several public universities offer degree courses in computing. So, how do you pick the right one?
First, look at whether your son is able to meet the cut-off score for computing, as it is highly competitive.
For the National University of Singapore (NUS), which has Singapore's largest intake of students for computing - with more than 1,400 last year - students generally need four As to enter the course.
Having said that, many students, including those at NUS, are admitted into computing despite falling short of the cut-off score.
Often, they demonstrate their aptitude for and interest in the field through other means, be it in the interview process or through some software they may have created.
NUS provost Ho Teck Hua feels it is important to recognise that developments in computing are rapid. Therefore, his advice is to pick a university where teaching and research in the field are at the cutting edge.
How do you ascertain that? One way is to look at the international rankings according to disciplines.
NUS, for example, was ranked ninth in the world last year for computer science and information systems by Times Higher Education and Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), where significant weightage is given to research output.
Your son should study the job and salary prospects for computing graduates in the yearly survey results, which were released on Friday last week.
It may not be possible for some Singaporeans to get their fix of The Mandalorian Star Wars TV series by using technological tricks to watch an overseas version of Disney+, such as before the video streaming service launches here officially on Feb 23. The Walt Disney Company told The Straits Times that in line with the Disney+ subscriber agreement, it does not allow users to access Disney+ using a virtual private network - to bypass geographical restrictions - in a territory where the service is not yet live.
Associate Professor Liang Zhenkai from the National University of Singapore (NUS) said that when a person uses a VPN, Disney cannot directly detect the overseas clients at the network level. "These undetected IP addresses used by the VPN service are not easily blocked. If Disney gradually recognises the VPN provider's network, they can block it later," said Prof Liang, who is from NUS' Department of Computer Science. This could happen if, for example, Disney detects a large number of unrelated users sending in requests from the same IP address, which suggests a delegation service like a VPN service is being used. But Prof Liang said that if the Disney+ app is used for streaming, there are other methods to recognise whether the client is from a different country, such as using the app store's region or global positioning system information of a mobile device.
In 2011, Damith Rajapakse was teaching a few modules at NUS Computing when he ran into a problem. Part of his modules comprised an aspect of project work, and he needed a way to evaluate each student’s contribution to their respective projects, so that he could assign grades in a fair manner. But the tools available to Rajapakse weren’t very helpful.
5 February 2021 – Twenty-two research papers by NUS Computing faculty and students are featured in the 35th AAAI Conference on Artificial Intelligence, which is currently ongoing and will end on February 9.
Life has gotten more digital than ever before. And the plusses of that for the environment has been clear…as in clear skies and clean air. What is not so clear however is this: when it comes to greenhouse gases, the Internet is responsible for 2% of global emissions. If the Internet were a country, it would be ranked as the sixth largest polluter in the world.
But the Internet is here to stay, so what can be done to make it greener? From individuals not hitting Reply All on emails or turning off Auto Play for videos, to data centres running on green energy and search engines giving back to the environment, host Prerna Pant looks at all the various ways we are Greening The ‘Net.
Pant also interviews Assistant Professor Trevor E. Carlson on how Internet usage is contributing to our carbon footprint.
12 January 2021 – Dr Kuldeep S. Meel has been named one of ‘AI’s 10 to Watch’ by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Intelligent Systems journal.
Smart home hubs and Wi-Fi routers from local brands Aztech, HomeAuto Solutions and Prolink are the first technology products to carry cyber-security labels similar to the energy-efficiency labels on home appliances.Sold on e-commerce platforms such as Lazada and Shopee, four products from these three brands have been given the Level 1 rating under the Cybersecurity Labelling Scheme (CLS), which is aimed at helping buyers gauge how exposed they are to risks.The Level 1 rating means the device maker has ensured that there is a unique default password and that software updates are automatically pushed to the products. The CLS - a voluntary tiered rating system administered by the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA) - was launched in October.Checks by The Straits Times found that the prices of the four CLS-labelled products are comparable to those of non-labelled counterparts. For instance, a single unit of the labelled Wi-Fi router from Prolink costs $150, while one unlabelled Wi-Fi router from TP-Link's Deco X20 line is priced at $149.Experts have, however, said that labelled products could cost markedly more - such as when, for a higher rating, a manufacturer sends its product to an external laboratory to test its resistance to cyber attacks. This is because complying with the requirements for higher ratings involve "significant effort and resources", said Associate Professor Goh Khim Yong from the National University of Singapore's School of Computing.
While some consumers said they would be willing to pay a small premium for a more secure product, most indicated that they would prioritise other factors such as user-friendliness and reliability over cyber security.
As the world embraces the Internet of Things (IoT), more and more everyday appliances are being connected to the Internet so that people can monitor those appliances remotely. While this makes our lives more convenient, there is a looming threat of cybercriminals using these devices to gain access to sensitive data.
Now, scientists from the National University of Singapore’s School of Computing (NUS Computing) have made it easier to guard against that. They have developed a software tool that can simulate hacker attacks, and which provide an automated way to protect the design. This helps designers create more secure computer chips.
The software works by simulating a physical hardware attack known as laser fault injection. To accomplish this on a real device, the cyber-criminal would first partially disassemble the hardware to gain access to its silicon chip without interrupting its operation. Then, they use a laser to generate a processor error. This throws the gates open, allowing them to extract data and security information.
Previously, it was expensive to protect chips against this kind of attack because they had to be tested manually. If the chip fails the test, the design must start over. The NUS software, called the Laser fault Attack Benchmark Suite or LABS, can now simulate attacks in a wide variety of situations and demonstrate how the chip reacts. All this can be done without having to manufacture a single chip. This helps chip designers figure out how to repel the attack, and even trick the attackers into thinking they have succeeded. With this software, chip manufacturers will be able to simulate any device, and results are available within minutes.
The NUS scientists, led by Assistant Professor Trevor E. Carlson and Professor Peh Li Shiuan, have made the software open source so researchers and the chip design community can use it, or help make it better.
29 December 2020 – Assistant Professor Reza Shokri has been selected by the newly launched Private AI Collaborative Research Institute to conduct research in heterogeneous decentralised learning.
In 2017, a casino in North America reported that their database had been hacked. The news in itself wasn’t surprising — more than 5,000 such breaches took place last year — but the cause of the leak was: a fish tank.
In April 2018, Hyeongcheol Kim flew to Montreal for work. The young PhD student was excited — it was his first time in the Canadian city and the conference he was about to attend was one of the biggest in his field of computer science. What’s more, Montreal was only a three hour journey from Quebec City, a place he had glimpsed many times on the small screen.
21 December 2020 – Information Systems PhD student Ahmad Asadullah won the Kauffman Best Student Paper Award at the International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS) 2020.
Most pundits gazing into the crystal ball will likely shout two words in their prediction of healthcare’s future: precision medicine. Increasingly, there is growing recognition that tailoring treatments based on an individual’s lifestyle, genes, and environmental factors can yield much improved outcomes.
Lettuce, mint and even tomatoes – Singaporeans may soon be able to grow these vegetables and more in their HDB flats.
Having witnessed “a deep psychological fear” when COVID-19 sparked panic buying here, Toby Fong and his team – superFARM – decided to bolster the nation’s food security. Their plan? Encourage green fingers through home-based farming.
“When we think about food security, it’s usually at a national level so it almost feels like the individual (is disconnected) from the entire food security equation,” said Toby, who graduated with a Master’s from NUS Architecture this year.
Under the “Make Our People Better” category, Toby, NUS Computing graduate Lim Hui Qi and NUS Arts and Social Sciences graduate Ong Jun Ren will design modular farming units that can fit into the smallest of homes. These units can also be customised for bigger spaces.
The plan is to transform niche hydroponics systems into functional mini-farms. In the next six months, half of their $50,000 funding will go to research such as field testing and online surveys, while the rest will be used for prototype development.
The team also wants to expand the individual’s role in food security to make sustainability a way of life.
“We want to recalibrate people’s attitude and behaviour to encourage responsible food consumption,” said Toby.
9 December 2020 – Associate Professor He Bingsheng and his collaborators have won the IEEE Transactions on Parallel and Distributed Systems 2019 Best Paper award.
8 December 2020 – Assistant Professor Jun Han, Computer Science PhD student Sriram Sami, and final-year undergraduates Yimin Dai (Computer Science) and Sean Rui Xiang Tan (Computer Engineering), as well as Assistant Professor Nirupam Roy from the University of Maryland, won the Best Poster Runner-Up Award at the 18th ACM Conference on Embedded Networked Sensor Systems (SenSys 2020).
When your robot vacuum cleaner does its work around the house, beware that it could pick up private conversations along with the dust and dirt. Computer scientists from NUS have demonstrated that it is indeed possible to spy on private conversations using a common robot vacuum cleaner and its built-in Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) sensor.
The novel method, called LidarPhone, repurposes the Lidar sensor that a robot vacuum cleaner normally uses for navigating around a home into a laser-based microphone to eavesdrop on private conversations.
The research team, led by Assistant Professor Jun Han from NUS Computer Science, and his doctoral student Mr Sriram Sami, managed to recover speech data with high accuracy. NUS students, Mr Dai Yimin and Mr Sean Tan Rui Xiang, as well as Assistant Professor Nirupam Roy from the University of Maryland, also contributed to this work.
Mr Sami shared, “The proliferation of smart devices – including smart speakers and smart security cameras – has increased the avenues for hackers to snoop on our private moments. Our method shows it is now possible to gather sensitive data just by using something as innocuous as a household robot vacuum cleaner. Our work demonstrates the urgent need to find practical solutions to prevent such malicious attacks.”'
The core of the LidarPhone attack method is the Lidar sensor, a device which fires out an invisible scanning laser, and creates a map of its surroundings. By reflecting lasers off common objects such as a dustbin or a takeaway bag located near a person’s computer speaker or television soundbar, the attacker could obtain information about the original sound that made the objects’ surfaces vibrate. Using applied signal processing and deep learning algorithms, speech could be recovered from the audio data, and sensitive information could potentially be obtained.
Say "no" when your child asks to use your work laptop to do his schoolwork, or set up a different user account on the work laptop for different activities.
There are ways to reset habits and practices for a more digitally secure 2021 as working and e-learning from home become the new normal even after Covid-19, said panellists at The Straits Times Reset 2021 Webinar Series: Digitalisation And Cyber Security on Wednesday.
The panellists comprised of Associate Professor Steven Wong from the Singapore Institute of Technology, Mr David Koh, chief executive of the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore; Associate Professor Chang Ee-Chien from the National University of Singapore School of Computing; and Mr Benjamin Ang, head of the Cyber and Homeland Defence Programme at the Centre of Excellence for National Security, a policy research think-tank.
Prof Chang suggested segregating devices at home by individual or workflow. For example, as far as possible, children should use a different desktop or laptop from the ones their parents use for work.
"If that is not possible, then try to segregate by setting up different user accounts on a laptop. Even if you have your own machine, you can segregate accounts for work, for family, or for playing games," he said.
"Segregation is about setting up security parameters, so that when something happens within that parameter it will not spill over to other (areas)."
NUS has honoured seven exceptional educators, researchers and professionals at the NUS University Awards 2020. The annual event recognises individuals for their outstanding contributions in the areas of education, research and service to the University, Singapore and the global community.
Professor Dong Jin Song from the NUS' School of Computing was given the University Research Recognition Award for developing a software verification framework that has more than 4,000 users from over 150 countries.
NUS President Professor Tan Eng Chye lauded the award winners for being role models for the university community. “Each award winner has exemplified the spirit of excellence with an indomitable spirit. They are truly esteemed individuals – beacons and pathfinders who inspire us to better ourselves and to scale new heights even in times of crisis. NUS is proud to celebrate their dedication and distinguished accomplishments,” he said.
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