ECU stands up Digital Futures institute to prep for challenges of an online world

Edith Cowan University's new institute takes the lead to protect Australia's online security.

Edith Cowan University (ECU) has launched a new institute, bringing together its existing focus on cybersecurity, computer science, and digital citizenship to work towards protecting Australia's interests in what it calls an increasingly connected world.

The new institute, called the Institute for Securing Digital Futures, will build on work already performed by ECU's existing Security Research Institute, as well as the Academic Centres of Cyber Security Excellence that are based at ECU and the University of Melbourne.

Led by Tony Marceddo, who joins ECU from Australian cloud provider Vault Cloud, the new institute will focus on linking research across five key areas where ECU has already made investments: Artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous systems, critical infrastructure security, combatting cyber-enabled crime, digital citizenship and human behaviour, and secure systems.

The decision to focus on those five areas, Marceddo said, was made after a handful of workshops conducted by the university earlier in the year determined what topics ECU already had critical mass in and could progress work on.

"Having those as the priorities, my role as the first director is to really facilitate and promote that interdisciplinary academic engagement and research, and then to align and energise government bodies and business entities around Australia, and around the region, really, and then also identify best positioning for us from a funding perspective," he told ZDNet.

"Also making sure that not only the research, but our teaching side, which is one of the real strengths of the university, is really practical and contemporary.

"Looking at the strengths of what they've got from a cybersecurity and a digital piece, and then also looking at the other programs and themes, and trying to use the power of what's available at the university to do really great digital research, broadens it a little bit further than cybersecurity."

See also: 10 tips for new cybersecurity pros (free PDF) (TechRepublic)  

A goal for Marceddo, he said, would be to see a module or certificate-style course across all of the university's post-graduate and masters, and programs that focuses on cybersecurity.

"I can just envision, at some point in time, if we could be the lead university that was able -- when anybody graduates from the university, they've actually got an element of cyber in what they've graduated with. That would be, I think, revolutionary from an Australian perspective -- we can be the pathfinder for that," he added.

According to Marceddo, when it comes to the digital challenges of the future, leadership is required from right across the board: Industry, government, and the research base.

"Technology impacts everybody ... what is that doing at a social perspective, what is that doing at a technology perspective, at a security perspective, and that's why I think what the institute and what this research is about is not only looking at the verticals, but looking at the horizontals, and how we can understand better and develop better research or better outcomes -- or position ourselves to get better outcomes. We'll then take that research and blend it in with government programs and industry solutions," he continued.

"It's very important that everybody takes leadership, but certainly from a research perspective. Universities have a very strong hand, and ECU ... it's an amazing capability that we've got here. I think if we can grow that and show a lot of leadership, from a national perspective, we can only benefit society as we move forward."

The Institute for Securing Digital Futures is the first of four new university-wide research centres that will be launched by ECU as part of its enhanced focus research. The other institutes are expected to focus on ecosystems and global change, as well as optimising health, society, and culture, Marceddo said.

"[We're] working with the ecosystem that's not only in WA but across Australia and regionally to make this a real success," he added.

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