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Cyber security

Thinking differently about security

Professor Ben Azvine, Head of Practice, Security Research & Innovation

There’s no doubt that cybercriminals are getting smarter. They’re becoming better organised, accelerating their use of new technology and turning their attention to new targets like city infrastructures and utility services.

The best weapon we have in our fight against these bad guys is innovation.

BT recognises this. And it’s why we are investing heavily in research and development to come up with robust solutions that secure our networks and help our customers do the same.

The research we do is focused on three main areas with the first of these being prevention.

Here, my team is working on building systems and virtual environments like cloud or IoT networks that are intrinsically very hard to break into.

We saw you coming

Another key area for us is detection and prediction. This is where we try to understand how things like AI, machine learning and big data analysis can help us to create sophisticated network ‘alarm systems’ that find anomalies and react to them. Or, even have the ability to predict threats before they happen.

In particular, we are looking to what we call ‘intelligence augmentation’ or IA where we combine the power of AI systems with the power of humans. This involves the use of interactive visualisation technologies that allow humans to assess, review and take the necessary action in a way that’s innovative. We call this the ‘Iron-man’ approach as opposed to the ‘Terminator’ approach to using AI.

Rapid response

Response is another big part of what we do. Currently, organisations are usually slow to respond to security breaches. If somebody breaches a network it can often take around 31 days before it gets dealt with.

However, innovations like automatic system patching or disruptive technologies like blockchain can help speed things up to help reduce or eliminate threats – and we’re exploring both.

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‘Quantum safe’ encryption

Quantum computing is an incredibly exciting emerging technology. When they eventually arrive, quantum computers will be millions of times faster than existing PCs. Their enormous processing capability will generate significant advances in data analysis that could bring huge benefits to the business word and society in general.

However, they pose a major security threat. Today’s cryptographic solutions are effective in that they can withstand attack from conventional computers. Working at full pelt, a modern PC would be expected to take more than a hundred years to break through an encrypted network. But a quantum computer to achieve the task in minutes.

BT researchers are evaluating what sort of encryption networks will need in the future and working on approaches to encryption that are ‘quantum safe.’  

 

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World without passwords

Ben, is consumer security part of your research remit?
Absolutely. A good example is the work we are doing to help create a ‘world without passwords.’ Our view is that the number of passwords we all have to remember every day. It’s all becoming unsustainable – especially with our aging population. We are sitting on a password time bomb.

So, you are looking at secure alternatives to keyboard passwords?
Yes. One of the solutions could be based on continuous authentication. This uses signals that can be gathered from users that are unique but don’t identify them. So, for example, the way you touch your mobile phone screen is unique. The pressure you apply when you make contact, the size and shape of your finger the way you move your finger around.

So, everybody is different?
That’s right. In fact, in our research we have have identified 37 tactile signals and behaviours that can help a device recognise its owner. And if we add things like biometrics or phones that take photos of your face as you are holding it, and then get AI systems to combine all this information we could end up with very secure solution that does away with passwords.