My name is Andrew Bukangwa, hailing from Rwanda. I had the privilege of being part of the Cybersecurity Lab at Ritsumeikan University in Shiga, Japan, from September 2021 to September 2023. As I embarked on my master’s degree journey in the Land of the Rising Sun, little did I know that my academic quest would lead me into the interesting world of bug bounty programs. Armed with determination, a passion for cybersecurity, and a love for all things tech, I set out to conquer the challenges that awaited me.
My academic journey commenced amid the turbulent times of the pandemic, with my initial trip cut short. Thanks to the understanding of Uehara Sensei and the graduate school, I secured permission to defer my studies for a year, eventually resuming in April 2021. Unfortunately, persistent restrictions dictated a challenging start.
The Kyoto Chronicles
Opting to begin my program at Kyoto University from back home-Rwanda, with guidance from Uehara Sensei who orchestrated an intensive 6-months Japanese Language Course that also included Japanese History and social sciences. To me this was a great start into the learning about Japan which bridged the gap between excitement, the anticipation of travel, and the daunting task of adjusting to a 7-hour time difference. The sheer thrill of landing in Japan and witnessing its technological marvels was the perfect soothe for the tough times.
Two weeks spent in hotel during the pandemic unfolded with an unexpected spectacle: firefighters battling a nearby blaze in Chiba. The resilience and dedication they displayed, returning 3 hours later repeatedly even after the fire had been extinguished, left a lasting lesson in efficiency and work ethic.
Two months later, I proudly completed my studies at Kyoto University. Though my time in Kyoto was brief, it was densely packed with activities, forming lasting connections with fellow students and friends. The vibrant city life catered to my inner travel geek, though not without the occasional hiccup – like the time I unknowingly posed for a photo in front of what turned out to be a graveyard thinking that it was an area with historic monument. Lesson learned: “Seek permission before partaking”
Shiga – The Uncharted Territory
The next leg of my journey led me to Ritsumeikan University – BKC Campus in Shiga. The stark contrast at the Minami-Kusatsu train station, bombarded with Kanji characters and lacking the tourist-friendly translations of Kyoto, marked a significant shift. Yet, armed with Google Translate and my Japanese lessons, I navigated the confusion confidently overtime. The peaceful nature of Shiga and the locals gave me moments where I could practice my Japanese.
Settling into the University’s Designated Dormitory, I-House, marked the beginning of a new chapter. Finally meeting Professor Uehara in person was a peak of the journey from online introductions to face-to-face interactions, enriching my academic expedition in the captivating landscapes of Japan.
From Travel to Research Papers
The initial two semesters of my master’s program were a whirlwind of intense, advanced-level courses taught by renowned professors spanning various industries. Some courses left me astonished at how much I had yet to grasp, presenting content that expanded my understanding beyond my expectations. Particularly noteworthy was a course on Human Factors, a realm entirely new to me. Professor Uehara’s recommendation hit the mark, opening my mind to innovative approaches to product design.
Simultaneously, my exploration of bug bounty programs began. Professor Uehara’s insightful guidance led us through Friday evening meetings, where each member presented their weekly progress. Amid the intensity, the professor’s understanding nature provided crucial support and mental guidance, offering relief during challenging moments.
Approaching the midpoint of the second semester, concerns loomed as my research diverged from the planned path. Thankfully, Professor Uehara suggested a unique method, unexplored by me until then. Faced with the challenge of acquiring data from existing bug bounty programs, he proposed Agent-based Modeling—an intriguing approach to simulating real-life scenarios. This unexpected turn opened new avenues, prompting me to delve into diverse fields such as biology, psychology, mathematics, and philosophy. This interdisciplinary exploration became instrumental in developing a simulated bug bounty program, transforming my research into a captivating and intellectually enriching venture.
Life as a graduate student in Japan wasn’t just about mastering the art of using chopsticks or finding the best ramen joints in town. It was also about diving deep into the realm of academia, juggling classes, and absorbing the wisdom of seasoned professors.
The Spark of Innovation and Friendship
Late one night, inspiration struck like lightning during a coding session, pushing me to develop a model that, despite being at a beginner stage, earned acceptance for presentation at the prestigious QRS Conference. Grateful for the constant support and brainstorming with my labmates and professor, I owe much of this success to their guidance.
Now, let’s talk about the vibrant characters in the Uehara-Lab. Each member brought a unique background and research focus, with the lab buzzing from the sound of keyboards clacking against deadlines. In the midst of the hustle, fascinating personalities emerged. Here’s a few of them.
Shingo-san, a brilliant entertainer with a love for movies, anime and literary all things entertainment but also maintaining a powerful background in web security, never failed to amaze me. Jako-san, the cool biker with a contagious laugh, always had a witty response to Shingo’s jokes but also an expert in malware research. My ride on his bike was a highlight, which I look forward to cruising with a proper license in the future.
Harry-san, a film enthusiast with digital forensic and historical knowledge, presented ideas in a truly intellectual way. Kimura-san, the dedicated dark-web researcher and biker boy, inspired with his commitment to organizing and leading lab discussions. Han-san and Javier-san were the cloud computing and blockchain gurus, with a stockpile of knowledge.
Hoang-san and Rao-san, the super machine learning engineers, left me in awe with their groundbreaking research in penetration testing and deep fakes. Liu-san, with a passion in photography our encryption guru, delved into crazy mathematics. Soma-san, always ensuring the lab had snacks, brought style and gentleness to the lab not forgetting his passion for coding and finding wordpress vulnerabilities, the lab’s github page is always filled with commits from him. In my final three months, two brilliant students from Thailand, M-san and Eng-san, joined us on an exchange program, adding a delightful vibe to the lab. I was always inspired by their confidence and knowledge in web security and malware research.
I think the ultimate humbling moment came from struggling to develop my model to discovering someone in the lab had already tackled agent-based modeling successfully, Kanta-san you are an inspiration. I always went back to him to figure out the tricks he used to tackle his research. And, of course, the heartbeat of the lab—the professor’s executive assistants, who executed tasks with exceptional care and unwavering dedication. I was truly inspired by their professionalism and commitment. I learned a ton from every member. It was a dynamic journey filled with solidarity, knowledge exchange, and a touch of humor.
Graduation and Beyond
As I proudly walked across the stage to receive my master’s degree, I couldn’t help but reflect on the incredible journey that led me to this moment. My bug bounty exploration in Japan had not only shaped my academic path but had also left an unforgettable mark on my journey in the world of cybersecurity.
Armed with my masters degree and the knowledge gained from Uehara-lab, I set out to continue my quest as a code ninja, forever chasing the thrill of uncovering vulnerabilities and making the digital world a safer place—one bug at a time.
And so, my bug bounty adventure in Japan became a chapter in the larger story of my life—a story of passion, innovation, and the pursuit of knowledge in the ever-expanding realm of technology.
I highly recommend Uehara-Lab for anyone who enjoys the thrill of getting challenged and learning as well.
Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn, let’s grow and learn together.