Anti-cybercrime centre opens for research

The £30m Centre for Secure Information Technologies in Belfast is working on powerful processors for data-scanning and other projects to protect people both online and offline

A new £30m IT security research centre, which officially opened in Northern Ireland on Wednesday, is working on anti-cybercrime technology to better protect people online and offline.

The Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT), which is located at Queen's University Belfast, will develop systems designed both to protect people's physical security and to secure their information and data.

"There are two aspects to the centre: one is information security and information assurance, and the other is people's physical security. What we are trying to do differently from other centres is the convergence of those two," Godfrey Gaston, operations director at Queen's University's Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT), told ZDNet UK.

The centre will bring together experts in high-performance network technology, content-processing technology and intelligent surveillance, along with crime and behavioural specialists. The complex, one of the first Innovation and Knowledge Centres in the UK, is tagged as the country's lead cybersecurity research organisation and has funding for an initial five-year lifespan.

One of the CSIT's projects is to develop powerful processors that can screen large volumes of data to seek out malicious content and processes on-the-fly. These processors can be installed at the heart of computer and telecommunications networks, and are designed, using behavioural rules, to avert online crime such as identity theft and child grooming, the centre said in a statement.

CSIT also plans research into other areas of data protection, such as the creation of hardware-based cryptography systems to secure the transmission and storage of data on RFID and other networks.

The centre's research into converged approaches to information and physical security is illustrated by its developments in CCTV technology, Gaston said. "If you take the issue of CCTV cameras in the future all being connected together via the internet, that is an information assurance problem as much as people security problem," he said.

CSIT is developing technology to analyse output from CCTV cameras in real-time, so the video images can not only be used to help prosecute criminals after the fact, but can also prevent incidents before they occur. Researchers from the centre are looking into systems that will continuously monitor CCTV data and then alert law enforcement automatically if an incident is detected.

Commercial potential
Although the centre was officially launched on Wednesday, it has been operational since March, said Gaston. "We are ramping up and will be recruiting a whole host of engineering, research and commercialisations staff. A big part of the centre is not just the research, but trying to commercialise the research and making sure that there is new technology transfer," he said

When the centre's funding was announced in November, it was expected to receive around £25m from organisations including the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board. According to Gaston, it is more likely to attract a total of £45m once commercial contracts are included.

"Over the five years of the centre, the organisation expects to get a number of competitive grants, including contract research from industry and European research grants," Gaston said.

Industry partners on board include defence specialists BAE Systems and Thales UK. The centre also plans to recruit around 15 industrial engineers to help develop commercial products from research projects.

"Commercial partners will be involved in research from day one to help ensure that the technologies developed at the centre have commercial potential," said Gaston. "What we don't want to do is just produce research, then throw it over the wall and hope that someone wants to commercialise it."

CSIT is also working with organisations, such as the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Home Office Scientific Development Branch (HOSDB), for its research.

"There are some government agencies we are working with, but we are not able to disclose that at the minute, due to the nature of what we are doing," Gaston said. "But I am sure you can make the leap in your own mind if you talking about information assurance and protection of people and buildings."

CSIT will employ around 40 research staff and 40 PhD students by the time it is fully operational, which should be within 12 months, said Garston. The centre is part of the ECIT at Queen's University, and some of the institute's 60 staff and students will work across both organisations.