19 February 2014 12:27

Insider threats and problems associated with policing the Boston Marathon bombings provided tough tests for students as part of an innovative cyber-security challenge.

Teams of students from Lancaster and Newcastle Universities produced solutions to real-world security problems as part of a special four-day ‘Agile Innovation’ event hosted by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in London.

The event was attended by David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science.

He said: “This competition highlights the strength of the UK's academic sector. We have the talent and research capability to solve real-world cyber security problems and produce the technology of the future.”

Dr Daniel Prince, Associate Director of Lancaster University’s Security Lancaster research centre, and who organised the event, said: “The Agile Innovation event demonstrated that the UK has a growing and sophisticated talent-base for tackling cybersecurity challenges and is capable of adopting creative and innovative methods to produce solutions to evolving forms of threats and cyber-crime.

“We had fantastic input from industry, including Raytheon and the Metropolitan Police, to ensure the challenges reflected real-world issues.

“The UK has a strategy in place to ensure Britain remains one of the safest places in the world to do business and this aim will be achieved by harnessing and nurturing the young talent we have and through looking at problems in new and creative ways.”

The event took the form of a competition involving three groups of four students – each team consisted of two students from each university – who took on two separate challenges.

Defence and security solutions company Raytheon set the first challenge, which looked at the problem of insider threats. The winning team proposed a novel solution based on two technologies that are traditionally seen as working against cyber security; bitcoin and peer to peer networking.

The team leveraged the novel cryptographic techniques used in bitcoin and peer to peer co-ordination to construct a distributed cryptographic solution to validate and record the operation of normal programmes and human-based business processes.

The second challenge was set by the Metropolitan Police and the concept for their challenge came from the Boston Marathon Bombings. During that incident law-enforcement services were provided with an over-whelming amount of intelligence in the form of footage and photos taken by the public. This represented a significant challenge to process and make sense of all the information they were given.

The teams had to provide a solution that would enable the triage of sorting and prioritising the publically-generated information. Here the winning team’s solution was based on a crowd-sourcing approach. This enabled members of the public to quickly review submitted material to help classify it and rate how relevant to the incident it was.

The overall winning team was comprised of Pauline Anthonysamy and Chris Richardson of Lancaster University, and Newcastle University’s Patrick McCorry and James Turland. They were rewarded for their efforts with Raspberry Pi development kits. Their work, and that of the other teams, were celebrated at an awards dinner sponsored by Raytheon at the Institute of Directors.

The teams are exploring the potential about developing intellectual property for their solutions.

More information about Security Lancaster is available by visiting http://www.security-centre.lancs.ac.uk/