Cybersecurity and privacy are two of the hottest topics today. Have you ever wondered about the work being done behind the scenes to help us avoid cyber attacks and protect our privacy? Dr Sachin Lodha is a Principal Scientist at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) and gives an insight into a typical day in the office, including how his work will make our digital lives more secure, and how he relaxes at the end of a busy day.
My background is in Mathematics and Computer Science. I have been with Tata Consultancy Services Research for more than 17 years. When I started, I was working on data privacy problems. This has subsequently become a huge issue, with GDPR and similar regulations coming in.
In recent years, my role has expanded, and I am now responsible for leading our cybersecurity and privacy research. With everything going digital, this has become one of the most happening areas of research with an ever-evolving set of cybersecurity and privacy challenges.
My day starts with…
A drive to work in Pune traffic which is the most perfect example of the Brownian motion – so this journey may take forever. I use this time to listen to multiple podcasts which help me keep on top of what is happening in the cybersecurity and privacy space. The fact that I am using my time meaningfully reduces my stress about the traffic too.
One of my long-held habits is spending time at the end of the working day figuring out priorities for the next day. So, I will have my morning’s work activities mapped out already. However, several things may crop up as I receive a lot of emails between leaving the office and coming back. I deal with whatever is most urgent first and change my day according to what needs to be done.
A typical day for me involves a couple of meetings on mostly technical discussions to do with formulating a problem, discussing new solution ideas, related proofs, or their articulation. At times, this gets more intense depending on some paper or patent submission deadlines or their rebuttals.
The rest of the time, I am busy either catching up with the latest security and privacy news from industry, reading academic papers, reviewing technical artefacts put together by team members or writing technical notes and articles. There are also periods when I am involved in many operational and administrative things that require lots of patience and intricate coordination with multiple teams.
It is all team work
We have got multiple research projects running currently, and team members are spread across different locations. We also collaborate with universities worldwide to advance our research agenda. Being a cybersecurity and privacy research group, we get to work on very interesting problems that require the application of diverse skills and expertise. As a team, we have expertise in algorithms, optimization, cryptography, databases, machine learning, deep learning, program analysis, distributed systems, usability, interaction design – you name it! It is like a miniature computer science department we have got.
There is a lot of discussion nowadays about using artificial intelligence and machine learning for new applications, but we are looking at that technology from a different point of view: not AI for cyber, but cyber for AI. How do I make AI and machine learning secure, safe and private?
There is also the privacy-by-design issue: privacy and security are typically an afterthought. But when things go wrong everyone wakes up and wants to solve it. The solution is to do things by design. The idea has become popular, thanks to GDPR, but we have been working on this for a long time.
Another area we are researching is the cloud, and how to assure the integrity and confidentiality of data in the cloud. We are also looking at the Internet of Things and how to make it secure. The IoT has a lot of disruptive potential, but those devices have power, CPU and memory constraints. So even proven security and privacy methods and tech require a fresh look in the IoT context.
On top of that, we are also looking at how AI can help people. Despite our natural intelligence, we humans are the weakest link in cybersecurity. All of us have a lot of information to deal with – we have to manage so many different passwords, so many cookie warnings, and there is so much data to be safeguarded. Using technology to help people when it comes to making decisions about security and privacy is a major topic of research for us.
Wearing many different hats
My role requires me to wear multiple hats. As a leader, I decide what goals to chase. As a manager, I need to work out how to get there. I am a researcher when I am working on open research problems. I am an innovator when thinking about our goal, to produce something usable and useful. I am a venture capitalist to team leads by supporting their ideas. To my bosses, I am an entrepreneur, coming up with new solutions.
During the day I also make the time to learn from my peers who work in different research areas, often meeting them for lunch. We are all of a similar age and some time spent chatting and sharing ideas refreshes us for the second half of the day.
At the end of the day
I am very blessed that, at the end of the working day, I go home to a very loving family. My younger daughter, Shravya, who is only four years old, is currently ruling the roost and makes us all dance to her tune. The elder one, Soumya, is the gentle one like her name suggests. She is smitten with Math, just like me. So we both have lots of fun doing Math together.
To help me relax after a long day I like to play chess and watch cricket. I am a bit of a chess enthusiast and follow many key international tournaments pretty seriously. I am also a regular on an online chess game and enjoy doing their daily puzzles as a nice diversion. I am a born cricket fanatic. Interestingly, my friends and I have even applied some of our research to the sport and built a smart analytics tool that was appreciated by some cricketing greats! I find it relaxing to go for long walks. I like to read too, especially biographies and autobiographies, because you can learn a lot from others’ experiences.
I like to look back on the day and think about the new things I have learned. I judge the success of a day that way. By working in cybersecurity and privacy, and acting as a defender, I feel good that I am making a positive difference to society.