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Pioneering new collaborations for the cyber world

Academics in the UK need to look outward and work across international borders

By Keith Mayes  

This article was produced in association with Royal Holloway University

Pioneers are individuals or organisations that have new ideas and the strength of belief to put them into practice. The roots of Royal Holloway, University of London can be traced back to pioneers of education and equality: Elizabeth Jesser Reid, who in 1849 founded Bedford College as the first UK higher education college for women, and Thomas Holloway, whose vision and philanthropy led to the opening of Royal Holloway College in 1886.

Moving forward a century, we find a Royal Holloway pioneer celebrated in today’s Cyber World. Professor Fred Piper had been researching information security during the early eighties, when PCs were rarities, phones were not mobile and the Internet as we know it was not yet a dream. He foresaw the importance of information/cyber security and the need for academia to support industry, and so in 1990 he created the Information Security Group (ISG). In 1992 the ISG launched the first UK MSc in Information Security, and these pioneering efforts were recognised in 1998 with a Queen’s award, but it took much longer for the world to fully awake to the importance of information/ cyber security.

Information security is actually a topic that is thousands of years old and has always involved people, behaviours and processes, as well as available technology. When the term Cyber Security became in vogue, new entrants to the subject focused on technology alone and now view the importance of human aspects as a revelation. Nevertheless, encouraging multi-disciplinary collaborative efforts is essential for the future, enabling academia to help solve real-world problems.

It is vital that UK academia excels and collaborates in Information/Cyber Security, because it is an important part of our expert capability to safeguard our country and its critical infrastructure, and it directly impacts on parts of our society, from e-commerce and online banking to social networking, used daily by billions of people.

“Information security is actually a topic that is thousands of years old and has always involved people, behaviours and processes”

This is evident in the strategy of the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) that created the Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research (ACE-CSR) programme, endorsed specialist Masters degrees, and more recently undergraduate degrees with cyber security specialisms, to train the talent of tomorrow. The UK strategy has also developed themed research centres and centres for doctoral training.

The UK NCSC approach has much to commend it, however it is a national model, whereas cyber security is international and our adversaries can be nation states or criminals who respect no borders. Therefore, our strategy should be international, especially when large corporations operate across multiple countries and much of our infrastructure and supply chains are globally dispersed.

The conclusion for academics is that we should collaborate on an international scale. In the UK, the situation is especially acute, as much of UK international research collaboration has been dominated by European funded programmes, which are uncertain post-Brexit. In any case, we should not limit our endeavours to a single region of the world, as there are technical, cultural and educational benefits from looking further afield.

Pioneering academies have taken the initiative, with the creation of the International Cyber Security-Centre of Excellence (INCS-CoE). This was originally an inspiration from Keio University in Japan; to assemble the world’s elite cyber security institutions from trusted countries, to advance cyber security research, training and collaboration. The concept has gathered support since 2016, and has led to a more formal governed entity, announced recently. The structure is founded (but not limited) on three core countries; Japan, USA and UK, and two institutions from each country committed to establish the governing Charter Agreement. These institutions are Keio University, Kyushu University, The University of Maryland Baltimore County, Northeastern University, Imperial College and Royal Holloway. INCS-CoE was formally established in July 2019 and is intended as a stimulus for collaboration and as an umbrella for individual research projects, as well as an organisation for student/staff exchanges and capture-the-flag events. The plan is now to sign up more academic institutions, extend affiliate membership to non-core countries and to build industry support.

As pioneering ventures go, it is attracting a promising level of early interest from insightful companies offering financial support for the running of INCS-CoE, including CISCO, Adobe, Hitachi, NEC, Fujitsu and Northrop Grumman.

We would very much like to hear from UK industry and government willing to support INCS-CoE, and especially sponsors for research projects including UK INCS-CoE members.

This piece features in Prospect’s new cyber resilience supplement

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