The United Kingdom's lead centre for cyber-security research is to be opened today at Queen's University Belfast.
The £30 million Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) at Queen's will create 80 new positions and become the UK's principal centre for the development of technology to counter malicious 'cyber-attacks'.
Leading edge research that will help keep crime off the internet, combat anti-social behaviour and street crime and safeguard the trustworthiness of information stored electronically, both at home and in the workplace, are just some of the key areas addressed by the new Centre.
CSIT will also provide a timely boost to the UK's economy, aiding job creation and strategically positioning UK industry at the forefront of the global communication and information security sector, predicted to grow to around £50 billion in 2011.
The Centre is one of the first Innovation and Knowledge Centres (IKCs) created in the UK. Funders include the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Technology Strategy Board. In addition, to date over 20 organisations have committed to support CSIT's work over the next five years. They include industrial partners such as BAe Systems and Thales UK as well as government agencies and international research institutes.
The Centre will bring together research specialists in complementary fields such as data encryption, network security systems, wireless enabled security systems and intelligent video analysis.
Queen's University Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Gregson said: "The opening of CSIT at Queen's, is the most bold and exciting development the United Kingdom has seen to date in terms of information security.
"Cyber-security is a global issue that affects us all. 97 per cent of business in the UK now relies on the internet and other IT systems. By coupling the pioneering research undertaken at CSIT with economic development, Queen's will secure the UK's position in cyberspace.
"Today is also one of the most significant and defining moments in the history of Queen's University Belfast. The funding to create this Centre is the largest ever package made available for academic research in Northern Ireland.
"The successful bid for this Centre by Professor John McCanny and his colleagues, against other world-class institutions in the UK, highlights how the research work at Queen's in this crucial sector has become truly internationally recognised. CSIT will become a vital reference point for all businesses working in this field and beyond."
The attendance at today's launch of some of the most respected national and international figures in the field of cyber-security, including Larry Rohrbough, Chief Executive of TRUST, the United States' major centre in the area of cyber-security at the University of California at Berkeley, highlights the importance of the new Centre to the global communications and IT industries.
Professor John McCanny, CSIT principal investigator, believes the new centre is set to become globally recognised thanks to the breadth and depth of its technological capabilities and because it represents a new international paradigm for innovation: "It is really only now that the international community is beginning to tackle cyber security in a co-ordinated way. Our work at CSIT is therefore of fundamental importance at this critical time in the development of the Internet and related technologies.
"CSIT has an excellent technology platform based on world-leading expertise at Queen's and its already existing Institute for Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT) in the Northern Ireland Science Park. Our approach to exploiting the commercial and economic benefits of these strengths represents a major advance on how UK universities have attempted this in the past.
"The approach adopted within CIST contrasts with the more conventional way academic research is undertaken. Our starting points tend to be larger "mission-driven" projects involving sizeable teams for which ambitious and challenging end goals have been identified.
"In addition, CSIT has a strong entrepreneurial ethos with a novel commercialisation process built into our management structure. This enables our researchers to work effectively alongside potential customers and specialists from industry and other academic institutions. We are confident that in this way, we will be able to fast track the development of marketable applications of our technologies to the benefit of UK industry and the wider economy as a whole," added Professor McCanny.
One of CSIT's fundamental challenges is to develop systems to be deployed at the core of next generation computer and telecoms networks to provide much higher levels of protection than is possible with the Internet security tools installed on today's PCs.
Making this a reality will require significant advances in high-performance network and content processing technology - two research areas for which Queen's University Belfast has earned an international reputation.
Building on this work, CSIT is developing powerful processors capable of screening huge volumes of data - equivalent to the Internet traffic produced by over 10,000 households - for malicious content and behavior in real time.
The processors are the most advanced of their kind and are ideally suited for use at the heart of sophisticated systems controlled by complex sets of rules. These can be written to prevent identity theft and fraud or to protect children from on-line grooming. When an on-line security risk or crime is identified, they will be capable of triggering an immediate response.
By bringing together a wide range of security related research fields and technologies under one roof, CSIT is also aiming to pioneer the convergence of network, data and physical security through the development of new technologies and systems. This work is expected to lead to significant improvements in the effectiveness of CCTV technology in combating anti-social behaviour and street crime.
Currently, while much criminal activity is captured by the UK's four million CCTV cameras, very little is observed in real time because of the high cost of employing sufficient numbers of people to monitor activity on screens. This means that while the data they generate may be used to help prosecute offenders, it is of little value in preventing a crime before it occurs.
CSIT aims to tackle this problem by using innovative hardware and software designed to analyse CCTV camera data in real time.
CSIT's research also covers specific areas which have been identified as being of strategic national security importance in major reports produced recently by the British and American governments.