UTech Awards first PhD Degree

Dr. Sean Thorpe, (5th left) is congratulated on the award of his PhD following his presentation to a panel of external examiners on February 4, 2013 at UTech’s Papine campus. Sharing in the milestone occasion from left are Mr. Arnett Campbell, Head, School of Computing and Information Technology (SCIT), UTech, Dr. Felix Akinladejo, Graduate Studies Coordinator, Faculty of Engineering and Computing, UTech.  External examiners, Professor. Brajendra Panda, Head, Department of Computer Science University of Arkansas, USA and Professor, Brian Blake, Dean, Graduate School and Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, Department of Computer Science, University of Miami, Dr. Louis Ray Harris, Lecturer, Faculty of Engineering and Computing, UTech,  Professor Nilza Smith, Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Computing, UTech, Professor. Gossett Oliver, Vice President, Graduate Studies, Research and Entrepreneurship, UTech and Dr. Vernon Buchanan, Lecturer, School of Engineering, UTech.

The University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) has recorded a significant milestone with the award of the institution’s first PhD degree earned by Sean Thorpe, a Lecturer in Computer Security in the School of Computing and Information Technology (SCIT), Faculty of Engineering and Computing (FENC).

Dr. Thorpe successfully defended his thesis on The Theory of a Cloud Computing Digital Investigation using the Hypervisor Kernel Logs before a panel of two (2) external examiners and one (1) internal examiner on February 4, 2013 at UTech’s Papine campus.  The high caliber team of examiners comprised, Professor Brian Blake, Dean, Graduate School, Computer Science, University of Miami and Professor Brajendra Panda, Head, Department of Computer Science, University of Arkansas, USA and Dr. Louis Ray Harris, Lecturer, FENC, UTech, with oversight from Professor Gossett Oliver, Vice President, School of Graduate Studies Research and Entrepreneurship (SGRSRE), UTech.

The award has come following a three-year journey undertaken by Dr. Thorpe as part of a new model of collaboration that engaged a special team of academicians, specialists and administrators drawn from UTech and Colorado State University(CSU), Fort Collins, USA.  In 2009 Sean Thorpe was accepted by CSU on a scholarship to pursue PhD studies following his successful completion of the Fulbright Visiting Faculty Scholarship award at Harvard University, USA where he explored collaborative research work in cyber security. He explains however, that he was motivated to stay in Jamaica and undertake the PhD programme at UTech to initiate and be part of a history making process that would see both universities collaborating for mutual benefit while creating a model that could be structured for future PhD candidates.

The outcomes of that undertaking have been phenomenal.  Dr. Thorpe who also holds a Master of Science in Information Security from the University of Westminster, London, UK, notes that he has been happiest with the over thirty five (35) peer reviewed “published outcomes,” that culminated from the research effort. This PhD programme included the preparation and presentation of seminal research papers, for which some have appeared in reputable journals. Some of these research papers were also presented at conferences and workshops across the USA, Europe, Canada, and Asia.

In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Thorpe served as a reviewer for the ACM Research in Applied Computation (RACS), Conference Track papers, October 23- 24, 2012, Texas ,USA, Session Chair , for the Seventh IEEE International Workshop on Systematic Approaches in Digital Forensics (SADFE 2012), September 25 -28, 2012, Vancouver, Canada, and Reviewer for the very large databases (VLDB) 2012 Demo Track papers, August 27 - 31, 2012 Istanbul, Turkey. In 2011 and 2012 Dr. Thorpe obtained three(3) American National Science Foundation(NSF) Travel Grants to support conference presentations in Cloud Computing. He has also been invited as a Technical Program Committee Member for the 17th IEEE Computer Forensic and Software Engineering (CFSE) conference, in Kyoto, Japan, July 22-26, 2013, and the 29th Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), New Orleans, USA, December 9-13, 2013.

The distinguished thesis academic advisory committee comprised members from CSU and from well established international industrial security research labs. They collectively were appointed as Adjunct Faculty at UTech, and provided oversight for the academic content of the inaugural UTech PhD programme. The advisory team was led by Professor Indrajit Ray and Professor Robert France,  both of the Department of Computer Science, at CSU. These CSU Professors are both renowned for their works in Information Security, Digital Forensics, and Software Engineering respectively. Dr. Tyrone Grandison, former Program Manager, Core Health Care Services (with special focus on Privacy and Security) , IBM Services Research – Silicon Valley and now CEO of Proficiency Labs and Dr. Abbie Barbir, Vice President of IT Security Research, Bank of America completed the distinguished team of  co-advisors.

Relevant Application of Research

The thesis which “formally defines the theory of a Cloud Computing Digital Investigation by using a snapshot of the virtual machine (VM) kernel logs within the operating system environment,” is particularly relevant in the current digital age as law enforcement officials as well as institutions grapple with maintaining the security of their stored data in these logical spaces. The answers lie in the new ground breaking field of Cloud Computing log forensics. 

Through his abstract, Dr. Thorpe explains that the definitions in his research “are based on a finite state machine (FSM) computation model that was initially designed to support both fixed and removable physical devices. The computational model of a virtual machine computer’s history contains the primitive and complex states as well as the system events that had occurred.”  The goal of the Cloud Computing digital investigation is therefore to develop inferences about these virtual machines computer history.  Dr. Thorpe proposes this approach using formal proof definitions and a proof of concept prototype called a Virtual Machine Log Auditor.  He points out that the hypervisor kernel logs provide an audit trail or history that holds the key to providing a security foot print for use by IT administrators, forensic auditors, security practitioners and law enforcement personnel in general as a means to monitor, retrieve and investigate these logical data clouds.

Dr. Thorpe, who returned to teaching in the School of Computing and Information Technology (SCIT) in January 2013, expresses his sincere gratitude to Professor Gossett Oliver and Dr. Felix Akinladejo who facilitated the historic journey. 

Going forward, Dr. Thorpe intends to improve on the outcomes of his research work.  In the current year he is focusing on establishing a graduate information security led research group in the School of Computing and Information Technology (SCIT) to encourage both senior undergraduate and graduate students to engage in applied security and forensics research collaborated through local and international funding agencies. As a long term vision this research group aims to offer UTECH’s first MSc specialization in Information Security and Forensics, as well as a centre of regional excellence in doctoral studies in these suggested areas. Presently Dr. Thorpe has five (5) new conference papers and two (2) journal articles under review in 2013 alone, as extensions to his thesis work.  Additionally he has an invitation from a renowned publisher for copyright to a new book on “Cloud Log Forensics and Security” to be released later in 2013.

The University community expresses heartiest congratulations to Dr. Sean Thorpe and wish for him continued success.

Michelle Beckford 
Corporate Communications Manager
University of Technology, Jamaica 
Telephone: 970-5299

Februay 11, 2013