Guarding against the internet of troubles

01 December 2017
The Cyber Security Foundry launch (left to right - Paul Ash, Director of the National Cyber Policy Office, Professor Steven Galbraith, Associate Professor Alexandra Sims, Professor John Hosking, Dean of Science and Associate Professor Giovanni Russello)
The Cyber Security Foundry launch (left to right - Paul Ash, Director of the National Cyber Policy Office, Professor Steven Galbraith, Associate Professor Alexandra Sims, Professor John Hosking, Dean of Science and Associate Professor Giovanni Russello)

In a world where we will have 30 billion internet capable devices by 2020, the ‘internet of things’ is more accurately the ‘internet of troubles’ for those in cyber security trying to stay ahead of the game.

“The internet of things – the network of devices, home appliances and vehicles that can talk to each other – is leading us towards a smarter way in which to run our lives,” says Associate Professor Giovanni Russello from the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Science.

“However, it also increases the number of paths malicious entities can navigate to penetrate an organisation and its networks.

“Currently, the lack of standardisation for hardware and software makes things even cloudier. Software deployed into 'internet of things' devices is often proprietary and rigged with vulnerabilities.

“Other devices can ‘listen in’ on the conversations and extract information that can be used maliciously – even your ‘smart’ fridge can be used for a ‘man in the middle’ attack.”

This is where the new Cyber Security Foundry comes in.

Launched on 29 November during Cyber Smart Week, the Foundry, led by Associate Professor Giovanni Russello, Professor Steven Galbraith and Associate Professor Alexandra Sims, intends to develop more secure and resilient infrastructures for all our futures.

The group will draw on the combined expertise of researchers in science, engineering, law and business to work on real-world problems and support industry and other organisations against cyber security threats.

Alex Sims' speciality is blockchain – a continuously growing list of records or data called ‘blocks’, which are secured using cryptography and inherently resistant to modification.

“Email is appallingly insecure and blockchain provides greater protection than current security systems,” she says. “Governments including Australia and the United Kingdom and multi-national corporations such as IBM and Microsoft are already pouring money into the development of blockchain technology.”

Steven Galbraith’s work anticipates a world where quantum computers (which use qubits rather than binary ones and zeros) are the norm.

“The technology is still another 15 to 20 years away, but once it is widely available quantum computers will be able to break all currently used public key cryptosystems,” he explains. “We need to start the preparatory work now to develop the tools to secure the internet in the future.”

Paul Ash, Director of the National Cyber Policy Office says he is pleased to see the launch of a centre dedicated to new and exciting industry-focused research.

“Collaborative work between government, business and research institutions will make us all stronger,” he says. “We need to lift New Zealand’s cyber security capability to protect ourselves and our data, and partnerships like the Foundry are essential to achieving this.

“You need a smart pool of academics backing up work in the cyber security area, so that security is ‘baked’ into the ‘internet of things’. Having researchers working alongside industry delivers outcomes that are better than that sum of their parts.”

Mr Ash says geographical isolation is no protection against information security. “We are moving at speed towards smart homes and smart cities – we need to be sure we can do that securely.”

The Cyber Security Foundry will create a stimulating environment for research, the dissemination of research and the next generation of cyber security practitioners. The Foundry will be hosting its first forum on 21 February 2018.

For more information contact the Cyber Security Foundry.