Keyun Ruan is a forward-thinking Ph.D. student who understands that technology is complementary to myriad other fields; in her case, she is a pioneer in researching how cloud computing (the internet-based management of multiple data and information as a service) can bolster the fight against cybercrime. Indeed, not only is cloud computing one of the most revolutionary advancements in the tech-world, especially for large retail companies and start-ups, but with cybercrime now being a larger issue than drug trafficking around the globe, expect to see a dramatic increase in the quality of digital investigations over the next few years. We were able to chat with the Shanghai-born 24-year-old with a passion for art and painting, and whose book is set to be released next year.
For somebody unfamiliar the subject, how would you describe cloud computing?
It’s actually not a simple question because the industry has not agreed on the definition of cloud computing. In a simple way, cloud computing is outsourcing part(s) of traditional on-premise systems to be hosted by a provider and sharing infrastructure/resources with other tenants, or in many cases it could be understood as an operating system on the internet.
Could you tell me about your research?
My research is cybercrime investigation in cloud computing environments. Cloud computing is a very big trend these days: everybody is talking about it, and it’s predicted to be one of the major transformations that we are going through now. More and more companies will put their data into the cloud, and I was one of the first researchers to identify this area. In my Ph.D. dissertation I will write about the architecture for cloud forensics and a cloud forensics capability model, which is a set of criterias to assess all the different parties involved in cloud forensics on their capability and maturity on investigations.
How do cloud forensics fit in with cybercrime investigation?
Basically, people talk a lot about security, about the prevention of intrusions, and about breaches. Cybercrime is rising every year and it is now bigger than drug dealing around the world, but we still lack in everything when trying fight it. We don’t have enough tools, legislation, laws, or even a consensus among experts on the definition of digital forensics. It’s a good opportunity for experts to work together to bring digital forensics to a new stage.
I’m editing a book that will be one of the first publications on the topic of cloud forensics, but it’s difficult because there aren’t enough experts in the world working on the subject. I’m still looking for contributing authors, so that’s one thing readers could help with. I also have a startup based in Silicon Valley that is trying to build the largest expert network in the world for cloud forensics to provide auditing and consulting services as well as tools and training. I believe in the power of collective knowledge.
How are big companies managing their own information in the cloud currently?
A lot of emphasis has been put in cloud security, but there’s little done being in forensics. Right now, most people are paying for the risk. Major providers claim they are very secure, but Amazon recently had a major cloud failure that brought down many websites. Businesses are moving to the cloud because services are cheap, if you want to compete with your competitors who are using cloud services, you need to use cloud services as well. And cloud is very attractive to tech start-ups. I believe moving into the cloud is the right move, but we need to catch up with the security and forensics solutions to make it more safe.
Keyun, you’ve done a lot. Cloud forensics network, editing your book, doing a Ph.D. … Let’s go back in time: when did you know you wanted to work in the computer science field?
It started in middle school when I got my first computer. I was frustrated with the video games on it because I was not good at playing them. So, my mom took me to learn programming. I learned how to program until high school and eventually participated in some programming competitions, and then I just decided to go for computer science when I chose my major.
The whole time, did you know you that wanted to pursue a Ph.D.?
Not really. I was about to go to Johannesburg to work for an NGO before coming to Dublin for the Ph.D., but it was a very good opportunity and I knew that cybercrime was a rising field, so I didn’t think too much about it and decided to go for it. Some friends told me they thought a Ph.D. could be the last thing I would do because I was too active in student activities to be a “research person” but it turned out to be a great experience.
You have a diploma in art and design from the National College of Art and Design, Ireland. How long has art been a part of your life, and how does it play into your long term goals?
I’ve had a strong interest in art since I was very little because both of my parents are in art. My mother is a calligraphy teacher and my father is a painter. I was very good at drawings in kindergarten, and I’ve been doing art throughout my whole life. I’d always wanted to go to art school, but I never had the chance, but since I came to Dublin, I found out that art is a good way to relax my brain from my research. It’s a way to balance. Art and painting is where my passion is, and also it uses another side of my brain. I think this is really one of the best decisions I’ve made in the past two years. It’s not like what people say, where art and technology can’t go together. I think they go perfectly together.
What particularly excites you about the possibilities of our new generation?
There are no boundaries anymore. I believe in progress, and I love new trends. I think these new trends will bring us to a new level of thinking. There’s no need to be over-cautious or too paranoid about security. Security is very important, but it’s more important to move ahead.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
Another thing I want to mention is that after I finish my diploma, I want to gain some experience in curating, so I’m very interested in becoming a Chinese contemporary art curator. So if anyone is interested in that, I’d love to have a conversation about that as well. Because people are interested in Chinese contemporary art because all these political, social, and artistic reasons but there’s no good platform yet for emerging young contemporary artists from China, so I want to build this platform in both Chinese and English so it can be like a window from both sides. I’m finding people to do this with me, but it’s in a very initial stage.