Meet Euijin Choo: Big data analysis an emerging tool to bolster cybersecurity

With cyberattacks on the rise, Euijin (Alley) Choo uses big data analysis to uncover threats and provide innovative security solutions.

Donna McKinnon - 08 August 2022

Meet Euijin (Alley) Choo, new assistant professor in the Department of Computing Science.


Cybersecurity is like a Tom and Jerry cartoon, says Euijin (Alley) Choo, a new assistant professor in the Department of Computing Science, where the attacker, Jerry, tries to outsmart the defender, Tom. It’s a game without end. The stakes in cybersecurity are much higher, of course, and the daily reality of continuous and escalating threat — a never-dying science, as Choo calls it — is what drew her to this high-impact field of computer research. 

Arriving in Edmonton from Qatar in April, Choo was "shocked” to see snow on the ground for the first time in years, but is excited to explore the city and share her passion for cybersecurity research with the University of Alberta community.

Join us in welcoming Euijin (Alley) Choo to the Faculty of Science!

Tell us about your research.

My research area is data-driven cybersecurity which sits at the intersection of security and big data analysis. 

Increasingly, sophisticated groups continue to create tremendous amounts of emerging threats as a new technological paradigm evolves. To deal with new threats promptly before they cause greater damage, it is important to i) understand and correctly model the attacker’s realistic behaviour, ii) build practical security solutions that can detect threats early at a large-scale, and iii) measure the true resilience of security solutions with consideration of the worst case scenario. Advances in big data analysis have given a chance to quickly discover threats from large scale unstructured data (e.g., billion-scale graphs and petabytes of logs) and to provide prompt security solutions at an early stage. The primary goal of my research is to identify anomalous patterns in a large-scale dataset and to develop security intelligence using big data analysis.

To accomplish my research goal, I have worked on security research in various domains. Recent research topics include compromised entity detection in mobile networks and enterprise logs, malicious domain detection, phone fraud, spam detection in online forums, and attack/defenses against machine learning models. 

What inspired you to enter this field?

I was fascinated by security research for two reasons. One, it is a never-dying science. Two, it is needed for all fields.

The famous metaphor is that cybersecurity is like Tom and Jerry's game. Tom (a defender) always tries to find a new way to detect attacks, yet Jerry (an attacker) always figures out how to escape from Tom. As technology advances, there is more need for cybersecurity. Attackers are also getting smart and developing new sophisticated strategies. This results in security research being a never-dying science, and there is a high demand for skilled researchers in this field.

Cyberattacks are on the rise, and security is needed for all fields and various applications. Various businesses face security challenges such as enterprise infrastructures, Internet domains, cloud infrastructure, and platforms relevant to individuals' daily life, such as recommender systems, healthcare, financial organizations, and many more. There are tons of opportunities you can explore. Indeed, I have been exploring security research in various fields. 

Furthermore, cybersecurity research is connected to and greatly impacts people's daily lives. You may lose your money via voice/sms phishing and phishing domains. Your private information may leak and be used for malicious purposes. Ransomeware may block you from accessing your important/urgently needed files on your PC. DDoS attacks on Zoom will seriously impact your communication with coworkers, especially during a pandemic. I feel so rewarded when my research outcome makes a real impact and helps prevent people from suffering serious problems in their daily life. 

Tell us about your teaching.

Being a professor at a university is a privilege yet comes with a lot of responsibilities, as education can have a big impact on students' career paths and future life. It is also challenging to meet the diverse needs of your students. When I'm teaching, I always try to provide tailored guidance to individual students. When I first chose to major in computer science, I struggled a lot. I'm happy to help students overcome their challenges by sharing my experiences. I enjoy introducing computer science/engineering to novice students and attracting students who may have not been interested in computer science/engineering at first. I will be privileged to be students' role model to inspire them. I also learn a lot when I teach. Indeed, you need more in-depth knowledge, even on tiny details, when you teach. I strongly believe teaching is not only a process of educating future generations but also augmenting my own learning.

What are your impressions of Edmonton and the University of Alberta, so far?

I'm still exploring Edmonton. Right before joining the U of A, I had worked in Qatar for a few years, meaning I haven’t seen snow for a few years. Then, I got shocked by every-day snow in April. +40/50C degrees to -15C degrees was a big transition. Oh my gosh, I got frozen, yet people are wearing shorts? I feel a little bit nervous about the real winter weather in Edmonton that I haven't experienced yet. Other than the weather, I'm slowly getting to love the city. I’ve enjoyed the amazing view of the river valley and the many parks to walk around.

What do you like to do outside of work?

I'm quite an adventurer. I like the arts. I often go to art museums and watch musicals. I also like traveling and dancing — both make me forget and escape from all the stresses I have. I believe traveling is the best way to learn about diverse cultures. Furthermore, traveling often helps me clear my mind and refresh myself. Dancing makes me feel and get energy. You are communicating only through body movement without any words. You express your feelings without any words. Isn't it amazing? People will never know the feeling of performing on stage unless you do so. You look into the eyes of the audience on stage. I smile and cry on stage while getting the energy from the audience via eye contact with them. I hope I will have some spare time so that I can continue to explore the world through traveling and dancing.