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Uni cyber researchers

Two universities are to train the next generation of cyber security researchers. David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, announced that Oxford and Royal Holloway would receive £3.65m to establish a Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security.

Royal Holloway, University of London and Oxford University are to develop university research centres to train ‘high-level cyber security experts’. The move, which will be funded with a total £7.5m in Government and research council funding, is part of the UK’s national cyber security programme, and Government efforts to combat the growing cyber threat facing the UK.

The research centres, to be launched in the autumn, will provide an additional investment in education in this field, and will work to boost understanding of the increasingly sophisticated and collaborative nature of today’s hackers, whilst working to equip businesses with the intelligence and means to implement the best defences.

Paul Davis, VP of Europe at FireEye has made the following comment: “We have long called for greater education in cyber security – as this is the most effective way to protect the UK from the escalating threat, which is reaching crisis point. The greatest challenge – outside of identifying and stopping advanced attacks – is having trained experts on hand to assist. Today, such expertise is both costly and rare, which has made these resources a luxury for the vast majority of organisations. As a result, a government-backed investment in equipping the next generation with the skills and intelligence needed to detect, prevent and analyse these complex malware events, is very welcome news.

“The acceleration of next-generation cyber attacks shows no sign of slowing. When it comes to mitigating the cyber threat to a business, the advice is clear – you must invest in the best available defences and build robust layers of protection around your most valuable corporate assets and entry points. Secondly, and equally as important, is to have a concentrated effort to invest in people.

“Indeed, the human layer remains by far the greatest risk to an organisation. The continued education and re-education of people around modern security threats cannot be stressed highly enough as a vital component in risk mitigation. As spear phishing continues to be the most successful method of attack , organisations should be investing in technology that can identify and block malicious URL’s and attachments for signs of malware in real-time. With the odds stacked against businesses worldwide, simply throwing money at the problem and hoping for the best is no longer an option, at least in the immediate term.”

Oxford says that its Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) is built on the principle that effective cyber security needs to be inter-disciplinary, drawing not just on computer science, but on a range of human and social sciences, as well as business, law, and international relations. Its research themes seek to encourage graduates to study themes such as the security of ‘Big Data’, systems verification and assurance, real-time security, and security issues related to the integration of digital and physical.

The centre is to have part of £2.5m from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as part of the RCUK Global Uncertainties Programme and £5m from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills as part of its work in the National Cyber Security Programme.

David Willetts said: ‘Businesses are facing more cyber-attacks than ever before, putting their confidential information and intellectual property at risk. We must do everything we can to tackle this threat and make them less vulnerable. These new Centres will produce a new generation of cyber security specialists, able to use their skills and research expertise to improve cyber security and drive growth.’

Students’ academic study will be interspersed with ‘deep dive days’ when they will gain experience from users in industry and government about the cyber security challenges they face in their everyday work. They will also learn business, teamwork, and entrepreneurial skills, as well as undertaking their own cyber security awareness and education projects within the university and schools.

Dr Andrew Martin of Oxford University’s Department of Computer Science, who will lead the Oxford CDT, said: ‘We have been building a wide inter-disciplinary collaboration to address the challenges of cyber security. The CDT team will not draw from just the technical perspective, but also disciplines such as social science, business, and strategic studies. Mixing these with practitioner experiences from business and government, the students will gain a unique insight into the context of their work, and undertake research that makes a real, long-lasting contribution.’

Funding from EPSRC and the university will allow the CDT to offer 12 full scholarships per year, for three years in the first instance. Students will sit together during their first year, and receive an intensive programme of education in computer science, cyber security, law, business, ethics, international relations, and research methods. They will undertake short projects and internships with relevant companies before proceeding to three years of intensive research on a personal project. Upon successful completion, they will be awarded a DPhil.

The Oxford centre will be housed in the Robert Hooke building on Parks Road, adjacent to the University museum, which is being refurbished to provide purpose-built accommodation for some of Oxford’s Cyber Security research.

The new grant was awarded by EPSRC through a competitive process, with bids from across the UK.

Oxford’s Cyber Security Centre, which launched in March 2012, was awarded the status of an Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Research by GCHQ and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). It was also announced last month that Oxford will host the Government’s Global Centre for Cyber Security Capacity Building which is to be based at the Oxford Martin School.

Prof Keith Martin, Director of the Information Security Group at Royal Holloway said: “We are delighted to have received this funding which recognises the strength of our research and teaching.

“While Royal Holloway has operated an excellent graduate school in cyber security for many years, a CDT represents a significantly different approach to research training, and we are looking forward to taking on the great responsibility of delivering graduates who will directly benefit the country.”

The grant will fund ten PhD scholarships in three annual intakes. Students will attend one year of courses in advance of their three year research programme, and will experience varied placements in industry during their studies. Royal Holloway has already secured the backing of around 30 organisations from across the cyber security sector, including IBM, McAfee, Thales, Vodafone and Logica.

Igor Muttik, Principal Research Architect of McAfee Labs, said: “We are at a point at which the explosive growth of computer technologies has resulted in a worrying increase in cyber attacks against individuals, companies, and governments. McAfee is extremely excited to join forces with Royal Holloway in fostering a cohort of new security warriors whose job will be to protect the global computing ecosystem of tomorrow.”


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