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Meet Merit’s Research Scientist – Michael Kallitsis

Merit Research Scientist Michael (“Michalis”) Kallitsis has spent his six years at Merit working on various network security-based problems and collaborating with researchers from several universities on projects sponsored by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of State, among others. He agreed to answer a few questions for us about his research and his life at Merit.

Q. Can you give me an overview of your role at Merit – What is the contribution you make to the team?

My role at Merit is really three-fold. I do research that can directly benefit Merit, for example, we have projects where we build inexpensive and accessible software tools that would help Merit engineers better understand what’s happening in our network. At the same time, we also have projects that involve exploring large, longitudinal datasets to grasp insights and trends. For example, recently my team analyzed RADb and other routing-related datasets to identify usage trends in the RADb database, as well as its completeness and accuracy. We shared this analysis with the appropriate teams here at Merit.

Another contribution or role is doing research or supporting research that can benefit the community and our members. For instance, we collaborate closely with researchers from U of M and other universities in a project called Refraction Networking, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, whose goal is to develop software tools and infrastructure that can help circumvent internet censorship. There are countries, for example China, which prevent their citizens from accessing the whole internet. My team provides and coordinates infrastructure support for this project to help make censorship resistance a reality for thousands of internet users all over the world.  The third role that I have here is to do basic research that can help overall the society. We recently completed a project that was funded by National Science Foundation that was trying to identify attacks on the smart power grid. 

Q. Are there any current projects you’re working on that we can share?

The current projects that I’m working on are the two new projects recently awarded to Merit and the University of Michigan from the National Science Foundation. These are collaborative projects with other researchers from the University of Michigan, Stanford University and the University of Florida. The primary objective on these new grants is to re-architect and renew Merit’s Network telescope, which is networking instrumentation that Merit operates that allows us to observe a unique type of internet traffic that informs us about malicious traffic in the whole internet. The Network Telescope or Darknet  collects unsolicited internet traffic that arrives at Merit, which indicates attempts from malware that try to propagate and infect new hosts, denial of service attacks orchestrated in a coordinated manner by nefarious users as well as various types of misconfigurations and network outages.  Our goals are first to redesign and develop new infrastructure to help support real-time Darknet measurements and second to develop statistical techniques and algorithms to help us identify in near real-time, interesting events that happen within the Darknet so that we can notify network operators and the community for imminent threats.

Q. What’s the ultimate goal with this research?

The ultimate goal with the network telescope project is to build better and more secure networks. So, to really understand what’s happening within the internet and to develop something more secure, we need to first measure it and understand it. We want to build infrastructure that can help us conduct large-scale, macroscopic internet measurements in an attempt to capture and model the evolving behavior of the Internet. The overall goal is to help society by making critical infrastructure more reliable and secure.

Q. What is the single biggest impediment to reaching your goals? and why?

We have lots of good ideas and projects and the biggest impediments are time and resources. We’d love to have more students and researchers to work with to help with these projects.

Q. Having been at Merit for more than six years now, what’s the most fulfilling part?

The size of the department I work with is about seven folks and most are students or interns. What I like the most about working here at Merit is the interaction with students from the area, the young talent that bring new ideas. I enjoy teaching and mentoring them, getting them introduced into some challenging and exciting computer science problems and preparing them for their careers. At the same time, I also learn a lot by interacting with them. I’ve had some great students that left here and found great jobs in top tier companies or some that have gone on to graduate studies at top universities.

Q. Anything exciting happening for you right now beyond your research lab?

I’m getting ready to teach a graduate class at U of M about communication networks, it’s something I’m doing in addition to my Merit duties. But it would also benefit Merit because we like being close to U of M, it’s a way to meet more students, get introduced to new techniques and tools. Some of the things I’ll be teaching can be used in our research here so it’s a good thing.

Q. When you’re not working or teaching what else do you enjoy?

I just moved into a new house so I’m getting used to all that involves; I like to cook, play soccer and tennis and travel for work and to visit my family in Cyprus.