Southampton uses GCHQ funding for biometrics research

GCHQ will be working closely with the University of Southampton's new research hub on issues facing UK security, such as human identification and data privacy in a bid to help protect the country from cyberattacks.
Written by Sam Shead, Contributor

A new cybersecurity research centre at the University of Southampton is looking at how biometrics and data privacy can be used to protect the UK from cyberattacks.

The aim of the centre, which will see academics work alongside Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) staff on a regular basis, is to help make government, businesses, and consumers more resilient to cyber attacks by conducting new research and educating students on cybersecurity.

"The two main themes we are looking at are data privacy and identity management," Professor Vladimiro Sassone, director of the centre, told ZDNet on Thursday.

Although the official opening of the centre was on Thursday, Sassone said the centre had been up and running for two months. Some researchers at the Southampton centre will be focusing their efforts on the field of biometrics, which is used as a means of identifying a person based on their biological features.

Fifteen years ago, a team at the University of Southampton invented a system that was able to identify people by the way they walk. The project, which is still running, uses 12 cameras to collect data on a person's gait and the shape of their ears as a means of identifying them.

"The new thing we're looking at is soft biometrics," said Professor Mark Nixon, an academic at the university, working in the new cybersecurity centre. "You can describe someone as tall, thin, or fat and then use that information to retrieve people from a video."

The human descriptions Nixon describes are put into the system as a series of labels, which the system then converts into numbers and matches with video footage.

The research centre is drawing on the expertise of academics in the university's electronics and computer science department - which includes the UK government's chief scientific advisor, Nick Jennings, among its ranks.

The government-funded centre was one of eight universities to be awarded £50,000 and academic centre of excellence (ACE) status by GCHQ in the field of cybersecurity this April.


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