M&CS alumnus wins KNVI Best Thesis Award

Jos Wetzels, who recently obtained his Master’s degree in Information Security Technology cum laude at our department, was awarded the 2017 KNVI Best Computer and Information Science Thesis Award today. In his Master thesis KINTSUGI, Identifying & addressing challenges in embedded binary security, Wetzels addresses the upcoming challenge of securing ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) devices and small embedded devices, which do not have the computational nor the battery power to implement the kind of defenses designed for standard computer.

The jury was very impressed by the quality of Wetzels’ thesis in comparison to the other entries, and therefore unanimously declared him the winner: “These insights are rarely seen at PhD level, so it is very unique to see a Master’s student come up with them.” But not only the jury was impressed, also his supervisor and Full Professor Sandro Etalle had nothing but praise for the work: “The Master thesis of Jos Wetzels is not only the best Master thesis I have had the honor of being the supervisor of; it is the best Master thesis I have ever seen in my life.”

The main contribution of the work is mu-Armor, which is the first exploit mitigation suite (defensive measures against hostile attacks) designed for and working on small devices lacking virtual memory support; so called ‘deeply embedded systems’. Another contribution of the thesis concerns the discovery of vulnerability in well-known operating systems for embedded devices. Sandro Etalle concludes: “Thanks to the work done, Jos Wetzels is now considered a world expert in the field, and he is often asked as a speaker at industrial conferences, as expert on security of IoT and embedded systems.”

Jos himself was of course very happy with winning the award: "I am honored to receive the KNVI Best Computer and Information Science Thesis Award and would like to thank my supervisors, family and friends for their support. It is great to see the urgency and importance of fundamental research into embedded systems security being acknowledged, especially considering the rapid growth of the IoT and increasing interconnectivity of previously isolated, highly sensitive systems such as those found in critical infrastructure, automotive or medical domains.”

He continues, looking forward to the future of his research field: “My research has shown just how much ground there still is to cover if we want to catch up with what we've come to expect of our laptops, servers, desktops and smartphones in terms of security, and I hope my work has made a significant contribution in that regard."