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The University of Southampton

Cracking cybercrime

Fighting cybercrime and training the cybersecurity experts of the future

28 October 2016

Most of us depend on the internet for day-to-day activities, yet the world’s digital economy is being undermined by the activities of cybercriminals. As one of the few GCHQ-accredited Academic Centres of Excellence for Cyber Security in the UK, the University of Southampton has a leading role in using research and education to tackle cybercrime, both today and in the future.

A fundamental problem is that the internet was built on a non-secure platform, with an ethos of openness.

Dr Gary Wills - Associate Professor in Computer Science

Helping companies beat cybercriminals

Companies are going out of business all over the world because of cybercrime. Dr Gary Wills, Associate Professor in Computer Science, leads a team of researchers who work in the field of secure systems engineering – looking at the way secure systems such as cloud-based systems and the ‘internet of things’ are designed, implemented and used.

The team is also conducting research into cybersecurity in small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), with the aim of helping organisations protect their data, deal with breaches and find out how breaches occur.

“A fundamental problem is that the internet was built on a non-secure platform, with an ethos of openness – but now that we rely on it to store so much confidential data, it is vulnerable to cyberattack,” says Gary. “Our research focuses on helping SMEs, as they often don’t have a sophisticated IT department with the expertise to protect their online assets.”

Building secure systems that aren’t easily hacked is also vital for the future of the global digital economy. “Laws are changing and a serious breach in privacy can result in a company being fined a 10th of their turnover.”

Training tomorrow’s leaders in cybersecurity

Around 45 postgraduate students are currently specialising in cybersecurity through their MScs and PhDs at Southampton, including PhD student Nawfal Fadhel, who is working with Lloyd’s Register on a project that aims to help manufacturing companies protect their brands from cybercrime. “I would encourage young people to apply for a cybersecurity degree as there is a huge technological gap that the UK government needs to fill to enable businesses to protect their intellectual property,” Nawfal says.

Meanwhile, PhD student Sakchan Luangmaneerote is testing methods of protecting internet users from fingerprinting and tracking threats. As a result of one of his latest studies, Sakchan is exploring the possibility of using a browser extension to reduce the risk of tracking, while reducing the impact on user experience.

Changing the rules of the game

Computer scientist Dr Toby Wilkinson’s research explores the risk posed by cyberattacks and looks at two components: the probability of an attack happening and the impact the attack could have. Toby explains: "This is where safety differs from security. In a safety-critical system, say an aircraft, faults tend to be random and hopefully of low probability, but attacks by humans on systems are much more targeted and intelligent.”

Funded by Dstl, Toby is working on a project with a manufacturer of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to validate UAV routes and prevent collisions. "With UAVs becoming ever more widely used, it's vital that we ensure they are safe and not open to cyberattack,” says Toby. “We are developing software to monitor the decisions made by artificial intelligence to identify unsafe decisions and block them. This monitoring software will come with a mathematical proof that it is correct, giving greater confidence that the system is safe.”


Cyber security academy

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