Belfast Telegraph

Time to stop e-criminals slipping through the net

Cyber space is a lucrative hunting ground for online crooks but a groundbreaking summit today at Queen's signals the start of the fightback, writes Stephen Wray

It's hard to imagine a world without the internet - a life without Facebook, Twitter, email and online shopping and banking.

With more than two billion users, 250 billion emails sent every day, 234 million websites and countless web-based services, the huge impact the internet has had on our lives is undeniable. In reality though, it is only in its infancy. In a few years from now, cyber space will become an even more essential part of everyday life for individuals, businesses and governments around the globe.

One day in the not too distant future, the internet will be used in 'assisted living' to drive our cars, order our groceries without prompting and monitor our health. It will also become a 'personal assistant' to schedule our day, advise us when and what we should eat, arrange our entertainment and tell us when we should sleep.

Alarmingly though, the infrastructure that will enable all this and much more besides is not protected. As any computer user knows, cyber space is already a lucrative hunting ground for criminals. Online theft, computer viruses and attacks on web-based businesses by global criminal enterprises are already proving hugely damaging to individuals and companies. A recent report from the Cabinet Office puts the annual cost of e-Crime in the UK alone at £27bn.

The risks associated with the internet extend to nation states. A cyber attack on an Iranian power plant in 2010 showed that the internet could be used to disrupt and potentially even destroy critical national infrastructure. Highlighting the scale of the problem on a national level President Obama announced just a couple of weeks ago that he was setting aside $2.3bn for US Defense Department spending on cyber security. Closer to home David Cameron announced last October that £650m was going to be spent on cyber security. He said that the money would "significantly enhance our ability to detect and defend against cyber attacks and fix shortfalls in the critical cyber infrastructure on which the whole country now depends".

Internet security is clearly a major issue and there are a number of programs and initiatives around the world where both governments and industry are looking to solve some of the current cyber threats that we face today.

It is said that humanity deals reasonably well with risks that are current, but maybe not so well when it comes to long-term risk mitigation. So what of the future - we know the alarming pace at which technology is developing, we know how the internet is core to a functioning society and we know that we are only going to rely on it more and more. So what about securing the internet of tomorrow?

A select group of leading companies, key government policy makers, industry visionaries and world leading research institutes are gathering at Queens University Belfast today to discuss this very thing.

Queens University's Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) recognised that a lot was being done on current cyber threats, but there was perhaps not a lot of collective thinking about what was coming next, so had the vision of establishing the World Cyber Security Technology Research summit to discuss cyber security: what's next?

As the UK's leading university centre for cyber security research, CSIT is already making a major contribution to making the internet of the future a safer place.

Researchers at the centre see future networks as being similar to the infrastructure that supplies water to our homes. When we fill a glass from the tap, we expect the water to be pure. We don't have to install filters to make it safe for drinking because the water system does that already.

In the same way, CSIT researchers believe that in the near future when we turn on our home computers we should also be confident that the mechanism that delivers the internet will also cleanse its content.

To make this vision a reality, the researchers are pioneering groundbreaking technology that could soon be in widespread use to eradicate many internet threats before they can cause any harm.

Key to their approach is a new type of tiny but highly powerful electronic processor capable of handling internet traffic at rates of between 100 and 10,000 times faster than anything that is currently available.

Each circuit can screen huge volumes of internet data - equivalent to the amount produced by 100,000 households - before it is delivered to the home. This is done in real time so that any malicious or threatening content can be stopped in its tracks before it reaches the living room.

CSIT is also working on sophisticated software to govern what the processors need to watch out for and how to respond to anything suspicious that they might detect.

These are exciting developments which will be outlined at today's World Cyber Security Technology Research summit. It is a particularly significant occasion as it will be the first time that these key world experts will come together to decide what all of us need to do to safeguard the internet of tomorrow.

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