Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Daniela Oliveira

Dr. Daniela Seabra Oliveira is a distinguished professor at the University of Florida Electrical and Computer Engineering Department as well as the Diversity Director of the Florida Institute for Cyber Security (FICS).  Some of her accolades include receiving the NSF CAREER Award 2012 and the 2012 United States Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) from President Obama. She is also an NAE Frontiers of Engineering Alumni and a NAS Kavli Fellow.  This enterprising woman shares her innovative research and unique life experiences.


Tell us a little about yourself.

I am Brazilian, raised in Belo Horizonte, State of Minas Gerais, Brazil. I received my Bachelors and Masters in Computer Science respectively at the Federal University of Minas Gerais.  In 2004 I began my Ph.D. program at the University of California Davis and graduated in 2010. I have a husband Marcio, a 9-year-old daughter Brooke, and a 2-year old German Shepherd. 

Tell us more about your current project in regard to systems and usable security?

I have been working for more than four years on a collaborative, multi-disciplinary project on phishing and cyber deception. I work closely with Prof. Natalie Ebner, Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology and Prof. Damon Woodard, my colleague at FICS. Our goal is to identify cognitive and socioemotional risk factors in cyber susceptibility and develop usable and effective intervention tools for Internet users.

Still, on usable security, I have been investigating with Natalie and my colleagues Yuriy Brun (UMass Amherst) and Justin Cappos (NYU) developer’s security blindspots. Our paper “Why Experienced Developers Write Vulnerable Code” will be presented at the Fourteenth USENIX Symposium on Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) this year. 

I have also started a collaboration with Prof. Yier Jin from the IoT Institute on Applying Dynamic Information Flow Capabilities to IoT Hardware.

You have received so many recent awards and grants what do you attribute to your success?

Of course, you have to work hard and study but having good mentors and champions is essential I was very fortunate in this regard and I plan to “pay forward” by helping young students and professors who work hard and have potential.   

How did you become interested in this field?

It was not planned, in high school, I loved math and physics, and in Brazil back in my days, there was no college application like in America. You would travel to the city where the college was located and you would take an annual entrance exam, which was different for every college and every major, where you were evaluated in all high school disciplines. I took the computer science entry exam because some older friends of mine told me that if I loved math and physics I would like computer science.

The choice of cybersecurity for my Ph.D. also happened by chance. I was convinced I wanted to pursue the Networks field. But, at UC Davis I took a course taught by Felix Wu and I got very interested in the discipline. He was a fantastic teacher who got me really excited about the challenges of the field. I remember he was hiring students and I told him I was interested and that started me on my career path. I learned the importance of being a good teacher and how creating courses that teach and stimulate students can have a great impact on them.

Women comprise roughly 10% of the cybersecurity workforce, what can academia do to increase this percentage?

It is important for us to recruit not only at the college level but also in high schools. Based on my personal experience I some think teenagers make up their minds about what type of inclinations they have or career choice they want to pursue during high school years.  Perhaps, we don’t have many women applying or thinking about engineering and cybersecurity because they aren’t introduced to the option or they might wrongly think these fields are not for them. Also having more students and professors that belong to minority groups in STEM will help students feel less alienated in a field which is traditionally dominated by males. Further, some women might have the wrong impression that engineering is “isolating”. Some have the stereotyped view of the male engineer alone in the lab. Engineering, and especially cybersecurity are very social. We want to develop tools and solutions for people, we need to understand how people interact with our tools, and, more importantly, these days, cutting-edge research is multi-disciplinary.

What impact do you hope your research in phishing susceptibility will have in the daily lives of individuals short-term and long-term?

My vision is to minimize or eliminate the effort the Internet user has to make when encountering suspicious emails. I hope that my work won’t require them to be suspicious all the time.  Suspicion takes all the great things the Internet provides to end users: communication, fun, information.

What would your autobiography be called?

I usually think about biographies as a book someone writes about someone else (old or dead) who has done astonishing things (good or terrible). I also usually think biographies are better than autobiographies because it is usually difficult for someone to be truthful about their own sins, weakness, and mistakes. I never had the patience for keeping journals and even if I did I would never publish. So, I would probably never write an autobiography. I think I still have a lot to learn, a lot to accomplish, and have not reached the point of being worthy of a biography yet.

Which animal would make the best type of president if the animal kingdom ever rises up and takes over?

Of course a dog!  They are loyal, social and selfless, they care about their loved ones, and they can be fierce to protect their loved ones and those that need help.

If you could trade places with any other person for a week, famous or not, real or fictional, past or present with whom would it be?

Walt Disney. He was one of the most creative persons who ever lived. I wish I could learn a little from him by being him from for a week. 

What’s your favorite 80’s jam?

“Dancing With Myself” by Billy Idol.  I cannot not dance when this song comes on.