PhD position: Testing Autonomous Systems for Digital Supply Chain Attacks

Deadline: 30.08.2022

Simula Research Laboratory AS

Simula is a publicly owned research laboratory that conducts research in Information and Communication Technology. Our research is focused in the fields of scientific computing, software engineering, communication systems, machine learning and cybersecurity.

Simula's main objective is to solve fundamental problems of science and engineering that are of genuine value for society. This is achieved through high-quality research, education of graduate students, industry collaboration, and commercialization. Since 2001, scientific evaluations conducted by the Research Council of Norway has repeatedly placed Simula at the forefront of international research in ICT. In the most recent in-depth evaluation, the full range of research at Simula as given the grade of “excellent”.

Simula currently employs approximately 190 individuals from 35 countries and strives to create inclusive working environments. We strive to be an inclusive workplace.

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Project scope & description

The PhD project addresses the risk imposed on modern, complex autonomous systems that stems from digital supply chain attacks; that is, manipulations of modular components used in the overall system as-is or in an adapted variant. Digital supply chain attacks are a threatto a broad range of systems and users, spanning all of individuals, governments, and industries.

Modern intelligent systems commonly involve external dependencies, including labelled datasets, simulator environments or autonomous agents, or other collections of historical data for model training; pre-trained models as the basis for transfer learning or model composition; or just existing models for direct re-use and integration. All of these external components pose risks for attack vectors, such as data poisoning of datasets, where they have been tampered with to inflict certain undesirable system behaviour that lead to failingsystems or enable manipulation through external parties when deployed.

The project will develop methods to validate components and systems for digital supply chain attacks through software testing methodology and artificial intelligence techniques.

Challenges to be solved include:

  • the definition of a specification scope of information that is required to identify tampering
  • the demonstration of risks and attack vectors on a selected demonstration environment
  • the corresponding generation of test scenarios from some specifications

The PhD candidate will work on integrated hybrid systems that make use of software testing techniques, such as metamorphic testing for test generation and validation, augmented with AI/ML techniques for effective execution. The exact applications and types of models to investigate will be discussed and decided based on the interests of the candidate.

Candidate profile

Applicants are expected to have a Master’s degree in computer science, software engineering, or machine learning. The following items form a wish list for skills experiences of an ideal candidate; however, candidates who do not have background in all of the listed skills but are eager to learn, are still encouraged to apply.

  • Strong understanding of software engineering principles, in particular software testing (unit testing, fuzz testing, metamorphic testing)
  • Solid programming skills (e.g., Python), experience with machine learning frameworks, such as Keras, or TensorFlow, or others; familiarity with modern software engineering practices, such as Git, Docker and continuous integration.
  • A solid background in data science and machine learning. Direct research experiences in these areas is beneficial.
  • Strong quantitative and analytical skills are an advantage.
  • Proficiency in spoken and written English, good interpersonal and communication skills and show willingness to work as part of an international team.

Curriculum and PhD training

The PhD fellow will be enrolled in the doctoral program at one of our partnering degree-conferring universities, such as the University of Oslo or Oslo Metropolitan University. The duration of the doctoral fellowships can be 3 to 4 years, with at least 3 years of time dedicated to the doctoral work (courses, research, thesis) and up to 1 year for additional work. The purpose of this additional work is to contribute to researcher training and the development of transferable skills, and such duties can include teaching, contract research, supervision of masters students or interns, or the organisation of meetings or conferences. The additional work is to be evenly distributed throughout the fellowship, and will be agreed upon together with the supervisor.

As a PhD fellow at Simula you will work closely with your primary supervisors in Oslo, and undertake coursework and training related to computer science, software engineering and machine learning. The specific courses to be included in the curriculum will be decided based on the background and interests of the candidate. In order to ensure successful completion of the project, student progress will be closely monitored by the supervisor(s) and through regular meetings with Simula’s PhD coordinator.

An additional unique feature of this call is the opportunity for the PhD fellow to conduct a portion of their doctoral research at one of our major collaborative partners, such as Inria in France. As such, applicants should consider if they are prepared and eager to spend a portion of their fellowship (generally four to six months) as a visiting scholar at a partnering research organisation.

In addition, the candidate will be enrolled in Simula’s training programs for early career researchers, which including both research-specific skills (e.g., grant writing, supervision) and transferable skills (e.g., public speaking, project management), the combination of which opens a broad array of future career paths, academic as well as non-academic.

Simula offers

  • Excellent opportunities for performing high quality research, as part of a highly competent and motivated team of international researchers and engineers.
  • An informal and inclusive international working environment.
  • Generous support for travel and opportunities to build international networks, through conferences, established collaboration with industry, and exchange programs and research visits with other universities.
  • Modern office facilities located in downtown Oslo, Norway.
  • A competitive salary. Starting salary from NOK 491.200
  • Numerous benefits: access to company cabins, sponsored social events, generous equipment budgets (e.g., computer, phone and subscription), subsidized canteen meals, comprehensive travel/health insurance policy, etc.
  • Relocation assistance: assistance with visas, complimentary Norwegian language courses, temporary accommodation, etc.
  • Administrative research support: e.g., quality assurance process for grant proposals (including RCN and EU programs).
  • Professional development and researcher training opportunities through the Simula Academy.
  • Flexibility in working conditions: our employees’ health and well-being is a priority and we encourage them to make use of our flexible work arrangements to help balance their work and home lives efficiently.

Application requirements:

The application must include:

  • A cover letter summarising the candidate’s background and motivation, relevant experience and qualifications, and listing in ranked order the project(s) to which the candidate wishes to apply.
  • Curriculum vitae: educational background, any prior research experience and specific research project involvement, working experience (in particular, any relevant academic or industrial work), list of publications (e.g., scientific papers and publication of conference contributions)
  • Copies of transcripts and diplomas from Bachelor and Master’s degrees. If you have not yet received your Master’s diploma, please submit your transcripts for your graduate courses so far.
  • Letters of reference, and contact information (name, current position, relation to the candidate, phone and email) for up to three academic and research-oriented referees.

All of the above should be submitted via the provided form below – applications submitted by email will not be considered.

Note: For non-native English speakers, proof of competency with English is generally required for entrance to the doctoral program. Standardized test results or completion of a University degree in an English-speaking country is suitable.

Application deadline:

We are accepting applications until August 30, 2022.

However, applications will be evaluated on a continuous basis until the position has been filled.

Working at Simula

Interested candidates are encouraged to read more about the working environment and training opportunities at Simula.

Here are some useful links

Main supervisor and contact

  • Dr. Helge Spieker ([email protected]) Research Scientist, Department of Validation Intelligence for Autonomous Software Systems Simula Research Laboratory

Simula Research Laboratory uses Semac´s background check in our recruitment process.

According to the Norwegian Freedom and Information Act (Offentleglova) information about the applicant may be included in the public applicant list, also in cases where the applicant has requested non-disclosure.

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