How Belfast can tap into the future of safer software
Northern Ireland could be a hub for the development of software to help fight cyber crime and data fraud, a global conference in Belfast has heard.
The fourth annual cyber security conference hosted by the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT), at Queen's University this week, also heard that a new Masters degree in Cyber Security will be launched this September.
Speakers from 12 different countries on four continents, representing Facebook, Intel, IBM, GCHQ, the Korea Information and Security Agency, Estonian Information System's Authority and McAfee all addressed the event.
Currently, the demand for cyber security experts is growing at 12 times the rate of the overall job market.
During his keynote address, Dr Douglas Maughan from the US Department of Homeland Security warned that current threats include denial-of-service (DoS) or distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, where a machine or network resource is overloaded and becomes unavailable to its intended users.
Such attacks have hit major global financial institutions and he warned that government services and emergency call centres could also be targeted by terrorists planning major attacks.
"If I had my way, we would start teaching kids how to code at five years old," he said.
"We in the USA don't have enough people and I know this is a problem for governments around the world.
"Young people spend most of their lives on their computers or their phones these days – it's how they communicate. Why not utilise these skills and let them make a career out of it? Everything we use these days contains software, from our cars to our fridges to our medical equipment.
"Software is in healthcare, energy, agriculture, emergency response and transportation and no security means these services are left vulnerable to attack.
"In future we will need more people to help design and implement the software which helps provide security for all of those sectors."
Chris Ensor, who works for GCHQ, said that he would have preferred the conference theme, 'Securing Our Digital Tomorrow' to be swapped for 'Securing Our Digital Today'.
"In the past, all we needed was food and water to survive," he said.
"Now we have information too and if that information is compromised we lose the capability to produce or deliver that food or water and therefore our survival."
Minister of Finance and Personnel, Simon Hamilton – whose department is responsible for the information technology security for the whole of the Northern Ireland Civil Service and some other public sector bodies – said there was no reason why Belfast's reputation as a software development hub could not be expanded to include cyber security technology.
"We already have some top financial software development going on in Northern Ireland and it would make sense for the software which protects financial institutions from attack to be developed here too," he told those at the conference.
"CSIT is already doing fantastic work and is working hard to make their technology commercial and we hope some of the delegates here are sitting up and taking notice of the developments happening here in Northern Ireland."
What is cyber security?
Cyber security, also referred to as information technology security, focuses on protecting computers, networks, programs and data from unintended or unauthorised access, change or destruction.
Why is cyber security important?
Governments, military, corporations, financial institutions, hospitals and other businesses collect, process and store a great deal of confidential information on computers and transmit that data across networks to other computers. With the growing volume and sophistication of cyber attacks, ongoing attention is required to protect sensitive business and personal information, as well as safeguard national security.
Source: University of Maryland University College (UMUC)
Irish cyber psychologist inspires CSI spin-off
Ireland is a centre of excellence for cyber psychology, according to the wo man who inspired a new spin-off of the hit crime drama CSI.
Mary Aiken is a cyber psychologist and research fellow at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland's Institute of Leadership and says that smart solutions are needed to combat problems like cyber bullying, online stalking and technology-driven human trafficking.
She looks at the impact of emerging technology on human behaviour and her research informs those dealing with cyber crime.
Mary's work has inspired a new spin-off from the TV series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which will explore technology and human behaviour and will revolve around the character of Avery Ryan, a special agent in charge at the Cyber Crime Division of the FBI, set to be played by Patricia Arquette and inspired by Aiken, who is a producer on the show.
The pilot will air as a CSI episode in America this spring.
"Technology engages the normal population but nobody ever thought about the criminal, the abnormal and the vulnerable," she said.
"I have worked with Interpol and a number of international police forces and I have co-led a White House research team focused on human trafficking.
"One of my findings is the differences between stalking in the real world and online stalking and exploring who has responsibility for child protection online - is is the government, parents, schools, technology providers.
"The lasting impact of early and constant exposure to disturbing online content in children is still yet to be fully quantified.
"We need to enhance filtering and protection to make sure technology is not being used to target or exploit the most vulnerable people in our society."