New ‘school of cyber security’ established to protect UK infrastructure
Preventing cyber attacks on the systems that control the UK’s infrastructure will be the focus of a new government-funded department at Imperial College London (ICL).
Researchers at the new Research Institute into Trustworthy Industrial Control Systems at ICL will explore how to counteract threats to the systems that control a range of processes, including nuclear power, manufacturing, energy distribution and the national rail network.
Industrial Control Systems (ICS) comprise many components including physical mechanical parts, sensors, computer hardware and software. These are often located over long distances and in remote places, making them vulnerable to attack.
For example, the UK's railways use ICS to control the entire national network – from monitoring and controlling train movements across the country, to signalling and emergency services. One of the first challenges for researchers at the new Institute is to investigate ways to improve how ICS are protected.
Working alongside government and industry, the team will also identify how a lone cyber-attack on one business or utility could have a knock-on effect, affecting groups of businesses 'downstream', which could lead to impacts on the UK's infrastructure as a whole.
Prof Chris Hankin, director at ICL’s new Institute, said: "In 2007, parts of Estonia ground to a halt when it experienced a 'denial of service' cyber-attack, overloading servers, which led to a temporary government shutdown. While this is an extreme example, it highlights how vulnerable countries are to these types of threats.
"Our industrial control systems are vital for running most of the industrial processes that underpin modern society. From electricity generation to making sure trains run on time, these systems are vital to our everyday lives, but more work needs to be done to determine how vulnerable they are to threats from cyber-attack.
“Research at Imperial's Institute will focus on working out what the potential dangers are, so that new technologies and procedures can be designed to mitigate them in the future."
The Institute is jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Cabinet Office via the Centre for the Protection of the National Infrastructure.
Francis Maude, minister for the Cabinet Office with responsibility for the UK Cyber Security Strategy, said: "The National Cyber Security Programme has ensured serious investment through its partnership with academia. This will make certain that the best UK expertise in thought and innovation in the study of cyber security is properly supported.
“The UK's third academic Research Centre at Imperial College will further strengthen capability and reputation in the strategically important area of protecting industrial control systems that lie behind some of our national infrastructure."
Professor David Delpy, chief executive of the EPSRC, said: "This EPSRC investment is part of our wider support for underpinning research into the science of cyber security.
“We need to ensure that the UK has the capability to protect both our physical and virtual assets and to do this we must develop outstanding individuals, support the best projects and make the most of the opportunities that the online environment can deliver for our economy."