Nui Galway leads national S4 cybersecurity initiative

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The growth of different cyber attacks internationally is providing a growing impetus for developing a national research initiative in cyber security in Ireland, which is being led by Dr Michael Madden of NUI Galway. This initiative, called S4 (Scientific Solutions for Secure Society), involves the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, the LERO Software Engineering Research Centre, and the Connect Centre for future research on networks and communications.

By harnessing the synergies between academics, industry, state agencies, and international collaborators, Dr Madden and his colleagues aim to improve the country’s resilience to threats and contribute to the growth of this new employment sector. In recent weeks, a workshop held in Dublin that was attended by 70 industry and academic decision makers and influencers. Its goal was to understand industry research needs related to digital security and privacy research and to connect industry participants with academics who can work with them towards identifying targeted projects of direct value to all.

A Data Summit was also held in the Convention Centre Dublin, organised by the Department of the Taoiseach along with the Government Data Forum, where a panel discussion on ‘Cybersecurity in the 21st Century’ took place with people involved in the Cybersecurity research initiative.

The following research pillars have been identified from the recent workshop and summit:
(1) Artificial Intelligence for Security; (2) Web-Scale Security Analytics; (3) Edge-to-Cloud Security; and (4) Trust and Privacy Management.

Dr Michael Madden from the College of Engineering and Informatics at NUI Galway said: “Like all countries, Ireland faces significant digital security threats. More than half of Irish companies have reported a data breach in 2016. Cyber crime is estimated to have cost Irish companies €600 million in 2015, and this is projected to reach €1 billion by 2020, according to a PwC 216 Irish Economic Crime report in 2016. In addition, we have seen large-scale data breaches experienced by multinational organisations internationally, such as Yahoo and JP Morgan, even before the recent disruption caused by this new ransomware.”

A new ransomware attack, which is being referred to as Petya, is currently spreading internationally. Like the program WannaCry that caused very substantial disruption a month ago, Petya is one of the new breed of ransomware programs that attempts to spread itself across networks, whereas ransomware before WannaCry did not. Petya appears to be more sophisticated in attempting to use multiple mechanisms to spread itself. Like all ransomware, it scrambles all files on an infected computer and charges a ransom of $300 to provide keys to unscramble them.

Dr Madden continued: “It is clear from the feedback received at the industry workshop on 12 June and the Cybersecurity panel discussion on 16 June that there is great capacity for closer academic and industry collaboration on security research, and many opportunities for growing this important area of research and the overall security ecosystem in Ireland.”

Dr Madden advises not to pay the ransom if your computer is affected; initial reports on Petya have indicated that it may fail to decrypt files even after paying. “As always with ransomware, the best way to protect your computer is to keep software updates up-to-date and to ensure you have everything backed up, so that in the worst case, you can re-install Windows and other programs, and restore your important data (documents, photos) from backups. The leading anti-virus software vendors have also announced that they are able to detect and protect against Petya.”

The S4 initiative involves academic researchers from NUI Galway, DCU, Athlone IT, Waterford IT, UCD, and UL.