I was always interested in computers from an early age – actually, I would say more obsessed. As I grew older, I found myself becoming more and more fascinated with the world of cybersecurity.Nick Nesterenko | Abertay University | BSc (Hons) Ethical Hacking
Hailing from Donetsk, Ukraine, Nick's path to success has been shaped by the tumultuous events that unfolded in his homeland.
Donetsk is probably most known in the Western world for being the place where the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia can be traced back to. Back in 2014, Russian-backed paramilitaries led an uprising in the area, and it initially acted as a breakaway state until it was annexed by Russia in 2022 during the ongoing conflict.
Nick and his family were displaced because of the 2014 military coup and moved to the Middle East. It’s here where Nick, then a 16-year-old, began pondering what direction his life would take.
After doing some research, Nick discovered that a university in Scotland created the world’s first degree in Ethical Hacking. That university was Abertay.
Fast forward to 2019 and Nick lands in Scotland, and the UK, for the first time in his life.
It was a complete culture shock. Scotland is so different to Ukraine – the people, the language, even just the general ‘vibe’. I felt completely out of my comfort zone in the beginning but kept reminding myself of why I was here.
After this initial wobble, Nick said he settled into life in Dundee very quickly and couldn’t wait to get started on his studies.
Despite being warned by a teacher that he would struggle to understand the Scottish accent, Nick said that he surprisingly understood the Dundee locals fairly well, despite Dundonian being one of the hardest dialects to get to grips with.
As the academic year progressed, Nick immersed himself in his studies, and before long, he was achieving top marks in his assignments, attributing his academic success to the support and expertise of his lecturers and tutor and eventually got invited to work as the laboratory assistant for the “Computer Hardware and Operating System” and “Digital Forensics” modules.
Reflecting on whether his family’s displacement in 2014 is the main driving force behind his desire to do well, Nick says he genuinely finds cybersecurity fascinating and enjoys learning about it.
I think it’s the idea of a challenge, of trying to keep a threat actor from hacking you and stealing your data. It’s almost like a game of cat and mouse where you try to outsmart the hacker. It’s that element of competition and problem-solving that I think I enjoy most. It’s like sports but in a digital environment.
It’s this passion that has saw Nick represent the University at various events and competitions during his studies. Earlier in the year, Nick travelled to London to take part in the UK Cyber 9/12 Challenge, an annual competition for university students designed to foster the next generation of cyber policy and strategy leaders.
The challenge sees competitors assume the role of advisors navigating a significant cyber incident and their responses and strategies are then judged by a team of industry experts. The Abertay group eventually made it to the semi-finals, beating of stiff competition from other students from right across the UK.
Participating in the competition was a welcome distraction from his final year honours project, which he says was tough, particularly given he deliberately chose a topic that had never been done before. The project involved developing a methodology that standardises the process of analysing how mobile phone viruses operate. His research eventually resulted in a new tool that can assist cybersecurity professionals in responding to malware attacks on mobile phones as well as the UMMA (Unified Mobile Malware Analysis) methodology, a potential game changer for the industry.
The work has even attracted the attention of Police Scotland, who invited Nick to present his research at a conference for cybersecurity professionals just a few weeks ago. Nick’s lecturers were also very impressed and are looking into producing an academic paper on the research.
As Nick’s time at Abertay draws to a close, his university journey is marked by both personal achievement and a commitment to supporting others. In addition to his academic succeed, Nick played a pivotal role in welcoming fellow Ukrainian students to Abertay during a challenging time.
Following the outbreak of the 2022 war, Abertay, along with other universities across the UK, opened its doors to young people fleeing the conflict.
A group of 30 students arrived in September 2022 and the University reached out to Nick to ask him to help them to settle into life in Dundee. He quickly created a Telegram group where he answered the group’s many questions, helping to translate key information and talking them through the registration process. Above all, he was just a friendly face that the any new student could go to with any concerns or issues, regardless of where they come from.
As he approaches graduation, Nick is currently undertaking an internship with the Security Engineering department at Lloyds Banking Group in Edinburgh. This opportunity allows him to further expand his knowledge and practical skills in the cybersecurity field, contributing to his already impressive portfolio.