Chandula Kodituwakku

Computer Science, 4th-year undergraduate student

Kodituwakku stands in front a rack of computer servers, which glow with colourful lights.
Kodituwakku checks out racks of research storage servers, which are maintained by UVic Systems.

Chandula Kodituwakku is passionate about cybersecurity and is always looking for hands-on experience in the area. Fortunately, he’s found plenty of opportunities during his time in UVic Computer Science.

For his first co-op, Kodituwakku was hired by UVic Systems as part of the Computer Help Desk. Since then, he continues to work part-time and has presented three training sessions for university staff and faculty on the importance of online security.

“When I first came to Canada I was pretty shy, but working with UVic Systems was a turning point for me,” says Kodituwakku, who moved to Victoria from Sri Lanka in 2016 and is now in his fourth year. “UVic Systems recognized my interest in security and gave me a lot of opportunities to pursue it. It’s really helped improve my communication skills and confidence.”

His most recent presentation, attended by about 40 UVic personnel in February, focused on how cyber criminals can exploit a person’s digital footprint, particularly through social media. An earlier presentation featured a live hacking session, in which he showed attendees just how hackers work.

“In the cybersecurity world, we say that humans are the weakest element: even with a firewall, if you click on a phishing website it can lead to malicious software being downloaded and spread throughout the workplace,” says Kodituwakku. “We need to make people aware of the risks because it can affect their work life and personal life. It’s not just a problem for an organization’s IT team – it’s an issue for everyone.”

Kodituwakku says the combination of his course work, part-time job at UVic and three hands-on co-op terms have enabled him to develop the foundational theoretical knowledge he needs while also honing his technical and soft skills.

“Co-op placements improve your communication and leadership skills, and also make really helpful connections,” he says. “They give you the chance to translate the theoretical concepts you learned in the classroom into real solutions that you implement in the workplace.”

Placing first in Toronto

Kodituwakku’s latest co-op took place at the Royal Bank of Canada last summer, where he was part of its Global Data Centre Operations in Toronto. There, he worked on RBC’s huge international network, which connects hundreds of thousands of devices, and developed a chat bot to help automate certain tasks. While in Toronto, he attended a conference and learned about a national cybersecurity competition for post-secondary students.

Back at UVic, he quickly assembled a team that included himself and three UVic Software Engineering undergraduates. In October, the UVic team returned from Toronto as first-place champions, after showcasing their solution to help small businesses achieve cybersecurity.

“You have to get out of your comfort zone sometimes and that’s what we did,” says Kodituwakku. “It was awesome.”

Closer to home

From among all the universities he could have chosen, Kodituwakku was drawn to UVic for two main reasons: he liked that its Computer Science program offered flexibility in allowing students to specialize in a number of areas and he wanted to incorporate a co-op program that promised experiential learning.

When he arrived in Victoria, Kodituwakku didn’t know a single person. But living in res during first year helped ensure that he made friends and by second year, he and his residence roommate were living in an apartment. Luckily, his roommate is also in Computer Science and didn’t seem to mind when Kodituwakku set up a small computer network in their dorm room. When the two moved off campus, the home network started to grow and includes multiple servers with security systems, which reside in the living room.

“Having a home lab gives me great hands-on experience – I have to implement everything from scratch,” he says. “It’s like running my own small business where I play the roles of system architect, system administrator, cybersecurity analyst and network technician.”

Not surprisingly, it’s the cybersecurity role that interests him most.

“My home network is open to the Internet, so hackers try to get into it and I have to defend it,” he explains. At the same time, if a co-op position he’s interested in requires experience in a particular software, he can quickly install it on his home network and get up to speed.

Over the longer term

While he misses his family, friends and the food of Sri Lanka, Kodituwakku plans to stay in Canada after graduation.

“Coming from one island to another means I don’t miss home quite as much – in both places, there are beaches, mountains and forests,” says Kodituwakku, who enjoys hiking, cycling and exploring the region in his spare time.

In particular, he hopes to eventually specialize in penetration testing, which involves being hired to legally hack into an organization’s network to identify and address vulnerabilities. He also would like to keep speaking about cybersecurity at schools and conferences to keep raising awareness about online security.

“Cybersecurity is a huge field and I’ve met a lot of people and have started to make a name for myself here in Canada,” he says. “And, at the end of the day, with cybersecurity you’re doing something designed to help keep people and organizations safe. It’s fun, it’s a challenge and it’s helping people to protect themselves.”

2020Mar10 AT

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