Australia Awards in Indonesia

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A picture of Niken Dwi Wahyu Cahyani, an Australia Awards alumna

15 May 2023

Niken Dwi Wahyu Cahyani, A Trailblazer in Cyber Security and Digital Forensics

When Niken Dwi Wahyu Cahyani was accepted to study computer sciences, she didn’t really know a lot about the subject. Little did she know that she’d become a trailblazer in the realm of cyber security and digital forensics.

“My older brother was actually the one who wanted to study computer sciences,” she recalled of her time at ITT Telkom, now Telkom University. “However, the more I studied, the more I enjoyed it.”

Now a senior lecturer and researcher at Telkom University’s School of Computing, she credits her lecturer in computer networking for inspiring her professional journey.

“There weren’t many female students studying computer networking, but it didn’t matter. I had found my passion, which became my thesis subject.”

In 2000, Niken herself became a lecturer for undergraduate students at her alma mater.

“At the time, it was still possible to teach undergraduate students even though I didn’t have a postgraduate degree. When it was time for me to study for my Masters at Universitas Indonesia, I wanted to focus on something that would add to my knowledge and skills in computer networking. So I chose to study network security.”

A computer network is a group of computing devices that are connected together using cables, fibre optics and wireless signals to share common resources, including files, servers, and internet access. Network security protects the network from unauthorised access, use, data theft, disruptions, modifications and destruction. Networking, information security and digital forensics are some of the many IT skills in high demand in Indonesia and worldwide.

With her Masters in hand, Niken returned to Telkom University and initiated a few security courses, such as systems security, for undergraduate and diploma students. These were the first security courses at the university’s School of Computing.

Ever curious and passionate about network security, Niken decided that she also needed to know the real-world applications of security theories. She then qualified to become a Certified Ethical Hacker, studying the ways to penetrate a network. This led her to certification in penetration testing, which is looking for an organisation’s network vulnerabilities, done at the organisation’s request. This, in turn, led her to digital forensics.

Digital forensics is the forensic science that includes the retrieval, storage, investigation and analysis of electronic data that can be used in criminal investigations.

“I always tell my students that I didn’t simply become a digital forensics specialist from the beginning. There was a whole journey!”

During this time, Niken also worked closely with the Forensic Laboratory Centre, a special executive element of the Indonesian Police’s Criminal Investigation Agency (Bareskrim), as well as the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (Kominfo). When the Kominfo was promoting awareness of the Electronic Information and Transactions Law (UU ITE) for law enforcement officers, Niken and her team were asked to give a workshop on digital forensics to explain why the data retrieval process must comply with the applicate laws.

The UniSA Experience

In 2012, Niken decided to pursue her PhD, to deepen her knowledge in digital forensics and cyber security.

“It was very important to choose the supervisor you want to work with rather than the academic institution. So, I researched professors in my field and was told to contact Professor Raymond Choo at UniSA.”

Prof Choo urged Niken to apply to UniSA’s Winter School first. UniSA’s Summer and Winter Schools offer intensive courses over a short period of time. It was an opportunity for Niken to get to know both Prof Choo and the UniSA campus.

“After the Winter School, I applied to become a PhD student and looked for a scholarship. I was the recipient of an Australia Awards Scholarship and left for Adelaide in 2014,” Niken said.

“My original dissertation was on bringing awareness about cyber security and digital forensics, building on my work with Kominfo. This then changed to cyber security and digital forensics proper once I got to Australia. Whilst in Indonesia, I focused on teaching, getting my certifications and giving a lot of training, at UniSA I focused on doing research and I was able to publish 12 papers.”

Back to Telkom University

When Niken returned to Telkom University, she was appointed the Head of Undergraduate Studies at the School of Computing. Until the end of 2022, she was also the Head of the School’s Cyber-Physical System Expertise Group, overseeing four laboratories, including the Forensics & Security (Foresty) lab. 

“Access to a lab is important for lecturers and researchers. It allows us to innovate and conduct our experiments in a safe and controlled environment before presenting our work.”

In addition to the skills and knowledge she gained at UniSA, Niken also brought back the mentoring style she experienced.

“The mindset at UniSA was that not all students already understood the subject well. So they would mentor us initially, giving us the knowledge and guiding our projects before letting us work independently. I found this very helpful, and now I do this with my own students.”

A Role for Women in Digital Forensics and ICT

Cyber security and digital forensics are growing fields that need skilled human resources. In a world that is rapidly changing technology-wise, Indonesia needs to find a way to narrow the gender gap for young women in ICT, as it is a field that offers good salaries and many opportunities for career advancement.

“The number of female students is still low compared to male students, but I’ve never encountered any problems because of gender,” Niken said. “(Women) are as bright as their male counterparts, and their ideas are just as good.”

In fact, being female might be advantageous.

“With regard to digital forensics, women tend to be more detail-oriented and compliant with the procedures than men,” she said. “This is important as we deal with the law. Everything has to be compliant from the very beginning to the end.”

Most important is that students and practitioners have a clear passion for their field, as they always need to keep abreast with changes and new technologies.

“There’s no seniority in ICT – we all have to keep learning. The nature of digital forensics has changed over the years, too. It used to be fairly reactive but is now very proactive. We need to know all the media variations out there and how to handle an incident before it even occurs.”

Looking Toward the Future

Niken has a new dream: for Indonesia to develop its own digital forensics tool.

“We are still followers, and we depend on expensive tools made abroad, which are understandably also difficult to procure. Access to these commercial tools is difficult,” she said.

“The Police’s Forensics Lab allows us to use their commercial tools for research purposes so that we have experience using these and not just open-source tools. To start, I’m looking at what features these commercial tools don’t have so that we can offer these.”

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