Dr. Robert Flowers: researching new avenues in network steganography
The aspiration to undertake a doctoral degree can come about for many reasons. For some, it’s part of a planned teaching career. Others have nurtured a lifelong interest in the world of academe.
For Robert Flowers, who earned his D.Sc. at Capitol in 2016, the key factor was discovering that many of the major innovations in the computer and networking fields resulted from work done by academic pioneers and thought leaders.
“When I looked back at key technological developments, there was always someone with the letters “Dr” in front of their name,” Flowers said. “I wanted to be part of that.”
For example, work by Dr. Robert Metcalf, who co-created Ethernet, led to the Internet. Another pioneer with an academic background, Dr. Douglas Englebart, invented the mouse.
And it was Stanford professor Dr. Donald Knuth’s book The Art of Programming that helped Flowers devise ways to radically streamline the work he did at Navy Federal Credit Union – where he has been employed for nearly two decades. Flowers subsequently performed a portion of the independent study for his Capitol doctorate while taking courses at Stanford. He credits his vice president at Navy Federal, Sharon Poach, for encouraging him to explore both experiences.
Now Dr. Flowers is poised to make his own contributions, with a focus on the emerging field of network steganography.
“Network steganography is the exfiltration of data using network packets,” Flowers explains. “As a network engineer, I spent a lot of time doing packet traces and trying to understand or isolate where problems were with the network. I saw there was a way to get data out of an organization via the packet headers, and not many people were looking at this.”
As he delved into the topic, Flowers found that steganography has already been implicated in the exfiltration of U.S. state secrets by Russian intelligence while also playing a role in the battle against terrorists.
When he made the decision to undertake a doctorate, Flowers knew he had a choice of programs available to him. He selected Capitol because he felt it was more clearly structured than some of the other options.
“The other programs I looked at were all over the place,” he said. “Someone obviously put a lot of work into laying out this program,” Flowers said. “You know exactly where you’re going to be in the program at a certain point in time. There was no doubt I was going to complete the dissertation and graduate within a reasonable time window.”
Dr. Flowers defended his dissertation, Impact of Cisco and Linux Firewall Protection in Data Exfiltration via IPV4 Network Steganography, in February 2016. Dr. Flowers is currently working on plans to market some of the ideas related to his doctoral research.
“Once I finish that process, the sky’s the limit!”