Spotlight on cyber security

Systems security expert Professor Sanjay Jha’s involvement in a new $50M Cyber Security CRC puts UNSW Engineering at the forefront of Australia's cyber security future.

Professor Sanjay JhaIt was around 2007 that Professor Sanjay Jha started to get a sense that systems security was going to be a big deal in the future. He looked around and saw very few Australian researchers in the space and thought stepping into that “gap” might prove a good focus for his career. Although it wasn’t a cut and dry decision:

“I was comfortable working in my niche area of internetwork and wireless and sensor networks at the time and thought I was taking a bit of a risk investing my energy into the systems security aspects of cybersecurity,” he explains.

His sense, however, has proved to be prescient. Cybersecurity is now a hot global topic and in 2015, Jha and his systems security team from the CySPri Laboratory at UNSW, found themselves ideally placed to join a consortium bidding to establish a new Australian Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).

The Australian Government’s decision to invest $50M in the Cyber Security CRC was announced in September 2017 and links Jha, and UNSW, with 24 participant organisations across academia, industry and government in a cooperative effort to grow Australia’s capability in cyber security research and industry solutions.

“We are really excited to be involved in this CRC,” says Jha who explains that the threat facing countries cannot be understated. “Government organisations, individuals and businesses are now utterly reliant on the internet. If it gets disrupted or disconnected, or if data is wilfully deleted or even mistakenly lost, there are huge implications and losses,” he continues.

There are a wide variety of cyber attackers to outsmart too, says Jha who likens the problem to a game of cat and mouse. “As we come up with new protections and systems solutions, the hackers and attackers are working on new ideas to attack these systems,” he says.

Government organisations, individuals and businesses are now utterly reliant on the internet. If it gets disrupted or disconnected, or if data is wilfully deleted or even mistakenly lost, there are huge implications and losses.

Professor Sanjay Jha, Director of CySPri Laboratory, UNSW Computer Science Engineering

Cyberthreats range from petty crimes like sending phishing emails to organised crime where the intent might be to hack a major system for credit card details. An attack might come from a lone wolf sitting in their bedroom with a grudge. Or at the most serious end of the scale, it might be a dedicated attempt by a hostile nation state to sway an election result, as we’re currently seeing play out in the US.

From disrupted water, power and telecommunications supplies to disruptions to democracy, Jha is right, the threat is unprecedented, so what is the CRC planning to do about it?

“In terms of UNSW’s contribution, we will be partnering on projects that specifically harness our expertise in systems security, network security, real-time analytics and distributed systems. I anticipate being involved in critical infrastructure projects and working on the security aspects of IoT, authentication technologies and blockchain technologies,” Jha explains.

“Ultimately, I think the future of cybersecurity is resilient technology,” says Jha. “It’s impossible to make a system completely secure, but you can make a system which is resilient, so that even if an attack happens, it can continue to function until it is repaired,” he continues.

With the CRC formally incorporated in January 2018, Jha says that from a personal perspective he is thrilled to have the opportunity to work on multidisciplinary, industry-driven research that should come to fruition in the near future. “Publishing research papers is, of course, very important, but some of the technologies I hope to develop for the CRC have the potential to make an immediate impact and lasting impact, which is an incredibly rewarding prospect.”

 

FACT BOX
Want to find our more or get involved?
The CRC has a strong cybersecurity PhD program and a number of generous scholarships. If you are interested in working with UNSW or being partially embedded with our industry partners, we would love to hear from you.

Additionally, one of the charters of the CRC is to create new industries, so if you have a cybersecurity startup or are a venture capitalist looking to invest please get in touch: sanjay.jha@unsw.edu.au

Written by: Penny Jones

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