Ikjot SainiIkjot Saini spent 2020 collecting accolades for her work as an expert in automobile cybersecurity.

Computer scientist leads global automotive cybersecurity academic network

Ikjot Saini spent 2020 collecting accolades for her endeavours as an automobile cybersecurity expert — and she was only hired as a lecturer halfway through the year. To add to her list of accomplishments, in February 2021, she became the academic director of the Automotive Security Research Group’s (ASRG) newly formed Academic Network.

The network bridges industry and academia on a global scale, building collaboration between professionals, hackers, and academics. The campus spaces, or research hubs, will be found at post-secondary institutions around the world, including UWindsor, and will offer educational resources as well as access to industry and academic experts.

“My role as academic director is to develop an educational framework in an effort to bring different research institutions together, and closer to industrial research.” says Dr. Saini (PhD 2020).

“Locally, this affords UWindsor the opportunity to connect the Windsor region and our students with global leaders in the automotive security sector.”

University of Windsor’s Academic Society will be paired with the ASRG Windsor chapter, ASRG-WIN, which Saini established as one of the first Canadian chapters in July 2020.

The cybersecurity expert’s research focuses on connected vehicle security and privacy. Saini says she has identified risks, designed privacy scheme, and modelled a privacy framework for the privacy assessment of vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

“All the apps and wireless communication services designed for road safety, traffic efficiency, navigation, and infotainment services can also put our safety at risk because of information sharing — sharing we might not be aware of,” says Saini.

“We are still trying to figure out what data is getting shared and this is potentially a big threat on privacy, because that captured data can share your behavioural patterns, your trips, and where you work.”

Saini appeared on the cover of Automotive News Canada’s 2020 Canadians to Watch issue. Most recently, she co-founded the SHIELD Automotive Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence, along with co-founder Mitra Mirhassani from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, to drive research and education in automotive cybersecurity.

Computer science professor Arunita Jaekel, Saini’s former supervisor, says she is proud of her accomplishments.

“There is a clear under-representation of women in STEM subjects and this imbalance is even more pronounced in computing sciences, so it is extremely important for women to encourage and mentor other women as they progress in their careers,” says Dr. Jaekel.

“Ikjot is a strong advocate for women in STEM and is an excellent role model for the next generation of female students who might be considering a career in computer science.”

In 2019, Saini co- founded the first Canadian student chapter of Women in Cybersecurity to create more opportunities for women to learn and get hands-on experience. It won the best student award in WiCyS 2020 conference, out of nearly 100 chapters.

“I’m passionate about cybersecurity and the promotion of women’s participation and leadership,” says Saini.

“As a female, I know the dire need to have that sense of community with other women in this sector, so I got together with fellow students to create a place that fosters the next generation of female cyber security researchers and innovators.”

Saini wrapped up 2020 being named 2020 Cyber Woman of the year by the Automotive Parts Manufacturers’ Association’s Institute for Automotive Cybersecurity. This follows her win as the WEtech Alliance Woman in Tech of the Year in 2019. For a longer profile on the young professor, read the article, “Filtering out the Noise and Going Within: Cybersecurity Expert Ikjot Saini,” in Windsor’s Drive magazine.

—Sara Elliott