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Home >Protecting wireless networks from cyber-attacks receives £6.1m funding boost

Protecting wireless networks from cyber-attacks receives £6.1m funding boost

11 November 2019

Cyber security and wireless experts from academia and industry will join forces to tackle the growing threat posed to wireless networks by cyber-attacks, thanks to a £6.1 million funding boost from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and industry.

Jointly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) - part of UKRI, Toshiba Research Europe Ltd alongside other industry partners & GCHQ,  with the University of Bristol through 2019 Prosperity Partnership awards, will focus on the creation of Secure Wireless Agile Networks (SWAN) that are resilient to both cyber-attacks and accidental or induced failures.

Wireless access is essential to the networks that underpin modern life, but many networks which rely on radio frequency (RF) interfaces are especially vulnerable to cyber-attacks or other failures.

In a five-year joint research programme, the partnership will identify vulnerabilities in the RF interfaces so techniques can be developed to detect and mitigate against the effects of cyber-attacks.

Increasingly, networks are becoming software defined, making them highly flexible and independent of their transmission and computing substrate, and enabling security updates to be easily rolled out. But this is not true for the radio interface: current systems are inflexible and cannot easily adapt to new standards and spectrum.

SWAN aims to create the enabling technology for radios that can truly be software defined and secure by design down to the basic levels of system functionality such as operating frequency bands, modulation, and multiple-access protocols, as well as the surrounding frameworks needed to make resilient and secure systems. In doing so, the team will develop radios whose RF characteristics can be updated to deal with new threats, and the technology to enable efficient and safe re-configuration in the field.

Professor Mark Beach, academic Principle Investigator, said: “SWAN brings together advances in three fields: RF Cyber Security, Agile and Resilient RF, and enabling RF and security technologies for dynamic spectrum access. The postgraduates, business, research and academic staff engaged through this programme will be immersed in training and hands-on cyber security experiences simply not available elsewhere, yielding a cadre of engineers with invaluable commercial and security insights. This partnership will significantly raise the awareness of RF cyber security risks and solutions to both industry and government, and advocating Secure By Design methodologies.”

A GCHQ spokeperson explained: “Though modern wireless standards incorporate encryption and authentication; the physical layers currently cannot be patched to the same degree as the higher layers in order to respond to new and emerging threats not foreseen at design time. It is important to develop new and novel protective measures, which should ideally include the ability to field-update every aspect of the physical layer radio operation to help mitigate such threats”

Dr Woon Hau Chin, Toshiba Research Europe Ltd, Business PI commented: “Through SWAN we will enable a more Resilient and Connected Nation by reinforcing a safe and trusted cyber society when using wireless enabled devices. This in turn will make our critical national infrastructure more secure and reliable, leading to increased productivity through enhanced use of networked systems. This is very much at the heart of EPSRC’s Prosperity Partnership agenda.”