Mission, Cybersecurity: LSU's Steven Seiden Aims to Teach and Inspire Future Cyber Crusaders

March 21, 2024

President Tate and Steven Seiden


In this episode of “On Par,” LSU President William F. Tate IV speaks with all-star student, Steven Seiden. Steven is a senior in the Ogden Honors College. He’s majoring in computer science with a concentration in cybersecurity. He’s an LSU Research Ambassador and member of the Society of Peer Mentors. The peer mentor, researcher, and future professor shares more about his goals and his hope to inspire others to enter the world of cybersecurity.

Full Transcript



[00:00:00] William F. Tate IV: Welcome to On Par with the President. Today we are speaking with an all star student, Steven Seiden. He is a senior in the Ogden Honors College, majoring in computer science with a concentration in cybersecurity. Thanks for joining me.

[00:00:15] Steven Seiden: Thank you, President Tate.

[00:00:17] William F. Tate IV: Well, first of all, what led you to LSU?

[00:00:21] Steven Seiden: I've always been interested in cybersecurity. That's actually something that I got interested in, uh, starting in middle school, so a very long time now. And I was really looking for a school that could support that. And I happen to be super fortunate in that growing up, I was surrounded by, um, LSU support. And I decided that ultimately I think I would want to continue here doing cybersecurity research. And it was overall a really good idea, a great fit.

[00:00:45] William F. Tate IV: Well, it's unusual that a middle school student would be interested in cybersecurity.

[00:00:49] Steven Seiden: [Laughs]

[00:00:49] William F. Tate IV: What exactly happened in middle school that led you to say, I mean, you know, you're 12, 13 years old,

[00:00:54] Steven Seiden: Yeah.

[00:00:54] William F. Tate IV: "I'm going to be in cybersecurity." I mean, that's,

[00:00:57] Steven Seiden: Yeah, so I think that I always had the idea that being like a super sleuth or a spy would be kind of exciting, you know? Um, and so I realized that I could be like a super sleuth of the internet, uh, by helping to protect against attackers, uh, that are trying to break into computers. And so that ultimately led me into doing more research and starting to learn how to code and things like that. And, here I am today.

[00:01:23] William F. Tate IV: Help others understand why expertise in this field is more important than ever right now.

[00:01:29] Steven Seiden: Yeah, so we're finding ourselves in a situation where more and more things are being done online. And because of that, there are more and more people wanting to attack these systems. And, uh, one of the most important things that we can do is help and protect these systems. Uh, I mean, nowadays everything from, you know, banking to just talking with your friends is done online. Uh, and there's a lot of people that want to be able to break into these systems in order to gain that information. Uh, especially because it's becoming more and more lucrative, right? Uh, you have production plants and, uh, all sorts of hospitals, things like that, all storing important information on the internet.

[00:02:05] Uh, and so you want to be able to protect all this information, um, from hackers that have, uh, financial incentive to get into it. Uh, and so I think that we need a lot more people that are on the other side of this trying to help protect this information. Uh, especially because this isn't something that a lot of people have been going into up until recently, right? It's a relatively new field within computer science, uh, and something that we can see is definitely underrepresented. So I think it would be very, very important to have more and more people go into this area.

[00:02:32] William F. Tate IV: So you've been part of the research community here at LSU in our cyberspace. What got you involved in research and what are you working on? And how has that impacted you?

[00:02:42] Steven Seiden: So I actually started doing research towards like the middle of my freshman year. Uh, I really got interested in it though, when I started a cybersecurity research project under Dr. Uh, Chen Wang. And so I started doing, uh, some user privacy research, trying to see, uh, what the dangers are of like being within a zoom call. Cause this was back in 2021. So zoom calls were very prevalent then. Uh, since then, I have also worked on a project under Abe Baggili. He's a new cybersecurity professor here at LSU. Uh, and so, most recently I worked on this project where, uh, we're trying to detect implants that people have put within them that are trying to maybe smuggle data.

[00:03:23] Uh, a very unique project, right, because there's like the hardware aspect and it's, there's like the human aspect as well because these are literal implants that people are putting inside of them. Uh, and this is an area we foresee to grow a lot, uh, within the upcoming years, and it's been very interesting for sure to look at.

[00:03:40] William F. Tate IV: So if you were talking to an average person who's maybe not a cyber expert, they know about how to do authenticate perhaps, how would you explain your research experiences' potential impact on their lives?

[00:03:55] Steven Seiden: Cyber security is everywhere, um, and it impacts everyone. Uh, the privacy of everyone is super important and that's something that we're kind of losing a lot. And I think that that's one of the most impactful areas, is trying to protect user privacy, uh, with everyone. So, if you have a computer system that is not secure, you need to make sure that it is secure, uh, by doing research on what could potentially go wrong. Uh, this impacts basically everyone, because everyone nowadays is using a computer in some form, right? It might be a phone, it might be a laptop. And you want to make sure all of the data that they're storing on these is secure.

[00:04:30] William F. Tate IV: I think people will understand that.

[00:04:31] Steven Seiden: Yeah.

[00:04:32] William F. Tate IV: With credit card information, social security numbers. Now you mentioned two mentors that you've worked with. Talk to me a little bit about how you got into these mentor relationships and how have they shaped your time here at LSU?

[00:04:46] Steven Seiden: When I started under Dr. Chen Wang, it actually was initiated through an email. Uh, a lot of people don't really know how they can get involved in research, and it can be something as simple as that, just writing an email out to someone saying, hey, I'm interested in working on a research project, would you potentially be able to support me?

[00:05:02] And so, uh, with Abe Baggili, that actually started through a course that I enrolled in. So, uh, this was when he first got to LSU. He started a class that was called Trends in Forensics and Cybersecurity. And the objective of that course was to complete a research project by the end of the year. And I initiated the project that I talked about, uh, with the implants. And I really enjoyed working under his mentorship, and I've continued working on various projects since then.

[00:05:33] William F. Tate IV: So, a lot of times when you work in research, especially in STEM areas, um, you get to travel or do different things that, you know, a typical student might not do. What, what kind of experiences have you had on that front?

[00:05:49] Steven Seiden: Yeah, so research has actually brought me a lot of places. I'm very fortunate for that. Uh, one of the projects that I worked on under, uh, Abe was a deepfake research project. So it was studying the impact of deepfakes on the security of systems and penetration testing. And we ended up publishing a paper for this project in a conference that's called ASIACCS. It's, um, It was held in Melbourne, Australia. And so this summer I was actually able to travel to Melbourne for a few days. Um, another recent, uh, experience was actually, uh, the implant project that I talked about. We were able to publish a paper on this in a conference in New York city.

[00:06:30] William F. Tate IV: So a lot of people, um, may not understand what it's like to publish a paper, especially as an undergrad, talk about that experience. What did you learn, you know, putting together a research paper for peers to review?

[00:06:44] Steven Seiden: Yeah, so putting a research paper together is definitely a lot of work. Um, the paper that I published most recently actually had undergone two previous revisions. So we had submitted it to two different conferences before it was accepted to this one. And so that's one of the largest parts of it. It's just submitting it to a conference and hoping that it gets in. And if it doesn't, you receive reviewer, uh, critiques. And you have to see what they did not like, what they liked, and edit and re-edit based off of that.

[00:07:13] William F. Tate IV: At the University, cyber security is part of our strategic, we call it our pentagon, um, of protection. What do you see as the future of cyber? You know, here you are sort of at the beginning of your professional life. What do you think the future horizon looks like?

[00:07:29] Steven Seiden: I think that it's going to grow pretty exponentially. Um, so right now what I'm working on is a more lower level systems project. Um, this involves analyzing iOS application security. I think that, that's going to be a large area, um, because a lot of people nowadays are downloading apps onto their phones that are tracking a lot of things that they're doing. Uh, people bring their phones with them everywhere. And I think that, that's going to be really interesting to look at to see how people are being tracked as they're going throughout their day, especially as we move maybe into the more, uh, augmented reality section, right?

[00:08:03] So, like, if someone's wearing augmented reality glasses, they're bringing those with them everywhere. Those are able to see everything they're doing and see everything about their day. Uh, so really looking to see how we can ensure that users have a good experience, right, with electronics, but are also, uh, protecting your privacy will be very important.

[00:08:21] William F. Tate IV: A lot of times we say cyber, but I'm curious from your perspective, where does AI fit into the cyber world?

[00:08:28] Steven Seiden: Yeah, so AI is a super large emerging field. I mean, we've had AI for a long time, but it's growing at a rapid rate now, uh, like everything in computer science. Uh, and so what we have to do is make sure that we're devolving it in a safe way. Because we see the emergence of things like ChatGPT. Uh, but most recently I actually saw that, uh, there was a new security vulnerability where people were able to see the training data within this model. So what they're able to do is type in certain keywords into ChatGPT, and they're able to output the raw data that had been fed into the model.

[00:09:04] Um, and so that's revealing, uh, private information potentially that they had scraped up. And this is something that's harder to look into because of the way that AI is developed. Um, it's not like you're just manually hard coding everything or anything like that. You're just importing a lot of data at once. And so trying to make sure that these datas aren't revealing anything important, uh, or revealing the privacy of people is going to be super important.

[00:09:31] William F. Tate IV: Well, that's sobering. [Laughs] You talked a lot about cyber, but what other interests do you have?

[00:09:38] Steven Seiden: One of my largest interests actually is photography. Uh, that's something that I started in high school. And, uh, basically anytime I travel, I bring my camera with me. Uh, so when I was able to go to Australia, I was super excited and I brought my camera with me an entire day almost, after the conference was spent, just taking photos of the landscape. Uh, I mostly like taking photos of different landscapes, architecture. I actually really like doing different university campuses. I've been able to do several now, uh, and it's been really fun.

[00:10:09] William F. Tate IV: Photography. So do you have to protect your digital assets?

[00:10:13] Steven Seiden: [Laughs] Yeah, absolutely. Uh, that's something that we're seeing a lot now, right? People are having their, uh, photos fed into different AI models, and they're not necessarily okay with that. I actually don't end up posting a lot of my photos online because of this. Um, I'm not sure how this is going to be addressed in the future as people are trying to protect their photos but want to share them. And that's going to be something that will be very interesting to see.

[00:10:36] William F. Tate IV: You can't even take a picture now, huh? That's tough business. You've been involved in the Society of Peer Mentors. Tell us more about that group, its goals, the initiatives.

[00:10:47] Steven Seiden: Yeah, so the LSU Society of Peer Mentors is a student organization within the College of Engineering that focuses on both mentoring their peers and K-12 outreaches and professional development. So, as a peer mentor, I've helped with a lot of things like reviewing my peers' resumes, um, helping to conduct interviews, um, as well as working at robotics outreach events. That's probably one of my favorite things because we actually, a lot of times, will invite, uh, schools to do robotics tournaments here at LSU in, uh, PFT. And getting to see all these kids excited about their robotics, that they've been working on for probably the entire year, is really rewarding.

[00:11:28] William F. Tate IV: Why would you recommend this experience to other people? Because mostly we come here to learn for ourselves, right? You know.

[00:11:34] Steven Seiden: I think that you can learn a lot through being a peer mentor. Um, there's a lot of important skills that you can get outside the classroom. Uh, some of the most important ones involve communication, right? So, like, as a peer mentor, I have to communicate with other peers, helping to teach them various things. If they're maybe a little confused with why something within their resume doesn't look quite right, I have to be able to articulate that well. And, uh, through being a peer mentor at LSU, I've gained a lot of that.

[00:12:00] William F. Tate IV: Well, obviously you've been a mentor, you've been doing research. I don't think it would surprise people that you aspire to get a PhD.

[00:12:10] Steven Seiden: Yeah.

[00:12:10] William F. Tate IV: So what led you to that particular aspiration and what do you hope to accomplish?

[00:12:16] Steven Seiden: I think that getting a PhD is super exciting because, um, of the opportunities to go into professorship. That is something that I'm looking to pursue after graduate school, particularly because I get to do research, I get to teach, and I get to provide back to the community through service.

[00:12:33] Research is something that I've been doing for quite a long time now, um, and is something that I want to continue for the rest of my life. I think that teaching would be super rewarding because I get to help uplift the next generation of cybersecurity professionals. And service is kind of falling into that same category where I get to go to the local community and help maybe teach some students that would not be interested in computer science or cybersecurity what they could do in that field.

[00:12:56] William F. Tate IV: Well, you clearly have options if you have a PhD in, with a focus on cybersecurity from the academy or the private sector or government. Um, you seem to have a passion for the academy. Is there, is there any specific experience that led you to say, I know I want to be a professor?

[00:13:18] Steven Seiden: I think that it's a combination of a lot of things, right? So I've been doing research for a very long time now. Um, and I've kind of said in the back of my mind, Oh, it would be super cool to be a professor. But I think that I really confirmed this after talking with Abe Baggili, um, about his own experience in becoming a professor. Uh, he is one of the coolest people that I know here at LSU, super fun person. And, it was really great being able to be mentored by him and see the path that he, uh, led himself down and see that I could go down a similar path.

[00:13:52] William F. Tate IV: It's always important to have an example, I think, and that's, that's awesome. So tell me, what's your favorite LSU experience?

[00:14:00] Steven Seiden: I think that one of my favorite LSU experiences, and there's so many so it's super hard to choose from, is actually probably the Welcome Week. And so I came here in, uh, 2020 when Welcome Week was maybe not as much of a thing. And so my friends and I decided that we would end up going at the next year, right, to kind of make up for it. And so we ended up really enjoying all of the activities and it's something that we do every year now, and it's been a lot of fun.

[00:14:25] William F. Tate IV: Wow. So, Welcome Week, it's become a ritual of your experience.

[00:14:29] Steven Seiden: Umhm.

[00:14:29] William F. Tate IV: That's, that's awesome to hear. Why would you tell other potential students that you should go to LSU?

[00:14:38] Steven Seiden: I think that LSU is one of the best places you can go, especially for, uh, cybersecurity because they have so many people to support you. LSU has helped brought me to where I am today. I definitely was not expecting to be here freshman year. Um, there's a tremendous amount of research opportunities. There's a lot of great professors teaching amazing courses and just a lot of good student organizations. Just everything that you'd want is at LSU.

[00:15:05] William F. Tate IV: Well, Steven, you have set an example for other students by taking full advantage of, you know, working with faculty mentors, traveling the world to do research. Really taking seriously, helping others in the community. Um, and you did it from a STEM field that maybe people might think is a very private activity. And so I want to commend you for what you've done, and thank you for investing in other people and wish you the absolute best as you pursue your PhD. Um, great job here at LSU. Thank you.

[00:15:39] Steven Seiden: Thank you very much.