2022-04-12: Trip report: 2022 CCI Symposium

The 2022 CCI Symposium, hosted by the Virginia Commonwealth Cyber Initiative, was held at the Omni Hotel, Richmond, VA on April 4, 2022, and April 5, 2022. As an awardee of the CCI seed grant on misinformation and disinformation, I presented our project in a speed briefing and a poster, with my student Saad Khan. In this trip report, I outline the symposium, highlight selected talks and posters, and list old and new friends. I also believe networking is an important purpose of coming to a face-to-face meeting. 

State of the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative by Luiz DaSilva

In this presentation, Dr. Luiz DaSilva, executive director of CCI, systematically summarized the state of the CCI program in four aspects: research, innovation, workforce development, and impact. Since its inauguration, the CCI program has had more than 300 researchers from at least 40 higher education institutions in Virginia. It has four nodes, Northern Virginia Node (NOVA, directed by Dr. Liza Wilson Durant), Central Virginia Node (CVN, directed by Dr. Erdem Topsakal), Coastal Virginia Node (COVA, directed by Dr. Brian Payne), and Southwest Virginia Node (SWVA, directed by Dr. Gretchen Matthews). 

In the research aspect, the CCI seed grant has enabled more than $77 million funded by the federal government and industry in two years. One big grant was a $13 million dollar DoD grant on 5G smart warehouse pilot, awarded to 5 major universities including GMU, VT, UVA, VCU, and ODU. One research theme was cybersecurity in Mis/Disinformation, which enabled 6 interdisciplinary awarded proposals, including our proposal.

The innovation aspect is aimed at translating research into commercialization, protecting intellectual properties developed in CCI, and fostering a robust ecosystem of startups. Especially, the CCI+A (Commonwealth Cyber Incubator and Accelerator) housed in GMU's facility in Arlington VA, led by the CCI NOVA Node and co-funded by the CCI Hub will award 8x$50K grants for translational research projects.

The third aspect is workforce development. There was a total of 53+k cybersecurity job openings (cyberseek.org, 3/30/2022) in Virginia at the end of March 2022. The total number of the employed cybersecurity workforce is 93+K, 10% more than November 2021. CCI organized an internship fair on October 5/6, 2021. CCI also organized a CCI Cyber Showcase that explores academic and career pathways. 

The CCI Impact relative to the CCI Blueprint shows that the 2021 outcome far exceeded the goals set at the beginning of the year. In particular, the annual competitive research expenditures across network exceeded the goal ($10M) by more than $20M. 

Looking at 2022, CCI will establish new affiliates program focusing on workforce development and continued focusing on large-scale proposals (CCI Fellows Program). 

The Poster Session 

There are at least 50 posters exhibited in the poster session. Most of them were about network security, signal processing, 5G, and cybersecurity. Because very few posters were in my research domain, I just highlight our poster and a poster by Dr. Gang Zhou and his student from William & Mary. Coauthors Chunsheng Xin and Danella Zhao are both from ODU. 

Securing IoT devices through Power Auditing and Privacy-preserving CNN by Woosub Jung, Yizhou Feng, Sabbir Khan, Chunsheng Xin, Danella Zhao, Gang Zhou

In short, the authors proposed a power-auditing-based IoT security system that supports up to a hundred IoT devices in real-time. The core component is a system that classifies the input into four types: IoT service, Reboot, Idle, and Botnet. The key is to design a lightweight system that outputs classification results in real time.  This was achieved by a 1D-CNN model. The system can predict IoT devices' behavior with up to 98.9% accuracy with a total processing time of less than a second. 

SciPEP: an AI-powered Scientific Misinformation Labeler -- A Prototype Design by Jian Wu, Saad Hasnain Khan, Winston Shield, MD Rashed Ul Hoque, Jiang Li, Morgan Edwards, Jeremiah Still

In summary, we proposed an AI-based human-centered design system that extracts scientific article claims and provides evidence to end-user in the form of confidence scores. The labeler works in the following steps. First, it uses a transformer model to extract domain knowledge entities (DKE) from scientific news. Second, the system queries these DKEs against a search engine API, which returns a list of candidate papers pertinent to the scientific news (see Hoque et al. 2021). Third, the system reranks these candidate papers based on their semantic similarity to the news article and classifies each paper by their stances (support vs. refute) with respect to the news article. Finally, the system aggregates the stances and generates a credibility score.  We designed a web-based user interface powered by the pipeline. A user study was then performed using this interface to evaluate the acceptance and effectiveness of the AI-powered labeler.  We have deployed a working system on AWS and will conduct user studies soon. 

Saad Khan and I in front our poster.


On the first day of the symposium, Erwin Gianchandani, an NSF program manager gave a keynote speech on a new NSF directorate called TIP, short for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships. The directorate was launched on March 16, 2022 and Erwin was soon selected as the assistant director of this directorate, so it is very new. The TIP directorate leverages the existing nine Directorates and Offices to rapidly produce societal user-inspired research and innovation. TIP signals a paradigm shift of research and technology users, teams, and drives. The following slide summaries this shift. 

The keynote mentioned the Bipartisan Innovation Act, which is a US Innovation & Competition Act. More details can be seen on the following slide.

The keynote also mentioned another major cyber-security-related program: the Secure and Trustworthy Cyberspace (SaTC) program, an NSF's flagship research program for foundational, interdisciplinary research on security and privacy. SaTC views cybersecurity and privacy as a socio-technical problem. There are about 900+ SaTC active awards totaling an annual budget of about $80 million. The historic total for SaTC & predecessor programs is $1.14 billion, with about 2800 awards.

All keynote speakers and their topics are listed on this page. 


The symposium has three professional development workshops on the second day. I attended a workshop called "Design Thinking Sprint". The workshop was chaired by Karen Sanzo, the director of Innovate Program at ODU. The goal of the workshop was to teach participants how to write a competitive proposal. Karen led the workshop in a group discussion fashion. The workshop started with an icebreaker to let participants think about what a cheese shredder could be used for. Then Karen let us write down the answers to three questions on sticky notes:

  1. what we were good at;
  2. what were our dreams, and
  3. what did we want to get out of the symposium.

Then, four groups were formed (finally 3 left) and each group picked one topic to outline a mock proposal. For example, our team's topic was how to narrow the gap between top-tier universities and community colleges. Then, each team was supposed to brainstorm any ideas that could contribute to the topic using a "fish diagram". This was my first time using this diagram but I felt that it was useful to aggregate different ideas towards a central theme in a brainstorming discussion. Finally, we talked about our ideas and provided a prototype of the proposed solutions to the topic. 

Overall, the activities were engaging and the sticky notes and the fish diagrams were potentially useful but I felt the transition from the sticky notes to the fish diagram was a bit vague. 

Sticky notes and the fishbone diagram.


I met many old friends and made some new friends. Some are listed below.


This was the first face-to-face symposium since the start of the pandemic. Because of the sharp decline of the US cases, most participants did not wear facial masks. Of course, all participants took off masks during the dinner.

The symposium was very well organized. There was a group of supporting staff, including Kendall Beebe, Susie KuliashaJohn Delaney, Sarah Solari Hayes, and Austin Shock.  

The only issues were (1) the speed briefing was way too short (only 3 minutes); (2) the badge always flipped to the other side, so we often needed to flip it back when we make a new friend. 

I was giving a speed briefing titled "An AI-powered Scientific Misinformation Labeler".

-- Jian Wu