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City University Forms Unit To Combat Cyber Threats

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City University London has created a research unit to tackle growing threats of cyber terrorism and crime

A London university has become the latest institution to turn its attention to the growing threat presented by cyber terrorism and cyber crime.

City University London revealed that it has created a cross-disciplinary Centre for Cyber and Security Sciences, as part of its School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences.  The new unit will bring together experts from around the University, who are specialists in fields such as cryptography, software reliability, and network security, in order “to examine the complex cyber security landscape and the threats posed by both state-sponsored terrorism and organised crime.”

Specialist Group

“As the world moves rapidly and irreversibly towards Web-based government, infrastructure, commerce, retail, banking and social activity, we have inadvertently introduced more effective, easier and low cost paths through which societies can be attacked,” said Dr Muttukrishnan Rajarajan, a reader in information security systems at City.

“The University has many specialists in this area with experience of both advising governments and industry and researching the latest trends,” Rajarajan said. “The new centre will co-ordinate these efforts for the first time and enable us to address a wider range of cyber security threats.”

Beside the creation of the Centre for Cyber and Security Sciences, City University London also announced a research project dubbed ‘The Uncertainty of Identity’. This will look at the ways in which a person’s real identity can be linked to their virtual identity, which it feels addresses some of the issues faced by the government in protecting critical national information infrastructures from cyber attacks.

The project itself is being funded to the tune of £1.2 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and City will share that pot of money with other collaborators on the project, namely the Home Office, University College London and the University of St Andrews.

Skills Shortage

The creation of the research unit comes as research from Hewlett-Packard showed that on average the typical cost of cybercrime to some organisations is £3.6 million per year. It also found that cyberattacks are increasingly plaguing businesses and government institutions, resulting in significant financial impact, despite widespread awareness.

And there is little doubt that the UK needs to improve its collective cyber security skills.

In July the boss of UK’s top secret listening station, GCHQ, complained that the agency was losing valuable cyber security experts to the likes of Google, Microsoft and Amazon. But there is now recognition by government of the seriousness of the issue.

In October last year, the coalition government announced that £650 million has been set aside for a cyber security initiative. Defence secretary Dr Liam Fox previously stated that Britain is under constant attack from hackers, and that last year 1,000 potentially serious offensives were blocked.

Cyber Responses

In an effort to ramp up its own cyber skills, the UK Ministry of Defence created a joint force command unit, that integrates the MoD’s cyber warfare and military intelligence units. In May, the British government also acknowledged it had begun work on a “toolbox” of offensive cyber-weapons to complement its existing defensive capabilities.

Prior to this, Armed Forces minister Nick Harvey warned that the UK  must have the ability to launch its own attack against those carrying out cyber warfare against this country and its infrastructure.

In the private sector, defence contractor Northrop Grumman opened a federated cyber test range last October so that UK businesses, banks and utilities have somewhere they can test their own networks and infrastructure against a co-ordinated cyber attack, but in a safe and controlled manner.

Last December, Chinese telecom equipment maker Huawei Technologies also announced the creation of a cyber security centre in the UK, that will allow its products and software to be examined and tested.

Meanwhile, events like Cyber Security Challenge UK, now in its second year, is doing its bit to find and encourage the security experts of the future.