Six years ago, Siuta Laulaupea’alu could barely use a computer. Today, his Master of Cyber Security research has proved fundamental in bringing the University of Waikato and the Government of Tonga together to work collaboratively on cyber security issues
Siuta is from Okoa, a tiny island in Vava`u, Tonga, where everyone knows each other and computers are a rare sight. “Okoa has a population of about 400 people,” he says. “And it’s poverty-stricken.”
In 2007, Siuta and his family were given the opportunity to immigrate to New Zealand. Now a permanent resident, Siuta says his life ambition now is to give back to the islands he was raised in. “The reason I am studying is to help my people,” he says. “And I don’t just want to help Tonga, I want to help the whole Pacific.”
Siuta is on-track to fulfilling his goal. As part of his final project for a Master of Cyber Security last year, he undertook research in Tonga identifying potential security risks and vulnerabilities to the Government of Tonga computer system.
The Government of Tonga was impressed. In May, coincidentally during the global WannaCry ransomware attack, the University of Waikato and the Government of Tonga agreed to use and build upon Siuta’s research. Both parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding setting out a framework to work collaboratively on cyber security issues.
According to the World Economic Forum, the cost to the global economy of cybercrime is around US$445 billion a year, and this is only going to increase. Siuta says people simply don’t know enough about online security. “My research showed there are a lot of new issues people, even those in government, don’t know about,” he says. “I want to look for the root problems to protect the government and its people in the future.
“If we don’t develop a better understanding of cyber security and implement strategies as a society, cybercrimes will become commonplace,” says Siuta.
With so much knowledge in his field, it’s surprising to know that before 2011, Siuta had barely used a computer. It was in that year Siuta began a diploma in information technology. “I didn’t even know how to send emails,” he says. “I wanted to study a degree in business management because I had some experience in that field, but it meant I needed to know how to use a computer.” Siuta became fascinated with computers and decided to instead continue his studies with a degree in information technology.
Graduating from the University of Waikato with a Master of Cyber Security in front of his parents was a “dream come true” for Siuta. His parents flew from Tonga to witness his graduation alongside his wife, children and nephew. He says he shed a few tears, thankful his elderly parents were able to attend.
Siuta is the first in his direct family to attend university, now he will be the first from his island to have studied for a PhD. He’s interested in researching online scamming, something he says people fall victim to often. “What people don’t realise is that individuals aren’t committing online scams. There are criminal networks targeting people.” The prevalence and constant advancement of these scams is a cause for major concern. “It’s not that easy to recognise a scam,” says Suita.
There's an increasing international demand for trained cyber security professionals and the University of Waikato Master of Cyber Security is the first of its kind to be offered in New Zealand.