Security with a Heart
Program: Ph.D. in Informatics, 2013
Hometown: Hunan, China
Advice: Explore many areas to find what best suits you
Rui Wang came to Indiana because of a professor. He fell in love with IU because of the people.
Rui, who earned his Ph.D. from SoIC in informatics in 2013, initially became interested in IU based on the work of XiaoFeng Wang (no relation), an associate professor of informatics and computer science, who was researching network security. Rui Wang liked the research direction XiaoFeng was taking.
Security was also Rui’s focus, namely investigating vulnerabilities in programs. He wanted to find the holes in programs that could potentially expose users’ private information to those with bad intentions. Call him a guardian angel for your info.
“I like to hack into things,” Rui says. “In computer security, you can look deeper and deeper to understand how the system works. When you get to some level, you actually are able to do things that ordinary people cannot because you know tons of system details. You can do amazing things. That was the incentive for me to pursue security.”
He did just that as a Ph.D. student.
“During my research, I found many important vulnerabilities in the web systems of Facebook, Dropbox, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and many others,” Rui says. “That really helped pave the road for me along this path I find myself on.”
He was so good at what he did that Microsoft approached him about coming to work for them as a research software engineer focusing on web and mobile security. It was a difficult decision, but Rui decided to accept the opportunity while continuing to work toward a Ph.D.
He spent nearly three years with Microsoft performing deep system investigations to understand the security challenges of real-world mobile and web applications. He also helped develop the tools to detect or defend against security threats. Rui’s research caught the attention of the popular media, who highlighted his work in numerous articles, and he continued to force major companies to modify their software to close security loopholes.
It was rewarding work, but in October 2014, Rui decided to branch out a bit on his own. He founded and became CEO of AppBugs, Inc., after developing application that probes the apps on a user’s smartphone to find security vulnerabilities.
“When we find one, we report it to the app developer first, and we give them 30 days to fix it,” Rui says. “This will improve the security of your apps because responsible developers will fix the vulnerabilities, and your apps become more secure. For those who don’t fix them, after 30 days you’ll see the vulnerability information from our app, and we provide suggested actions for you.”
Rui says AppBugs is different than traditional anti-virus apps because anti-virus software identifies malicious apps while the AppBugs app focuses on finding dangerous security holes in popular apps. AppBugs is available for Android phones, and an iOS version is being developed as well.
“I think the real future of computer science is in applications,” Rui says. “Basically, you have to apply the computer science to different application domains and impact those domains. Computer science can have a great impact when it is applied, and I really think informatics is a great approach to that.”
Rui is thankful that the environment at SoIC allowed him to quickly gain his footing, which sent him down his career path, and he is excited about the future of the school. He believes SoIC will help students stay on the cutting edge.
“I really think SoIC is a great school, and during my stay in Indiana, I saw that SoIC was growing with its merger with computer science and Information and Library Science,” Rui says. “It keeps adding more and more programs, and I think the future is going to be very bright.”