Tag Archives: innovation

Cyber security needs to consider both technology and human factors.

Cyber Security – Back to Basics

This week I finished the Open University’s “Introduction to Cyber Security” online course which is available through the FutureLearn platform.

Why, I hear you ask, am I going back to basics to learn about a subject in which I am already pretty well versed?

It is true that I have been exposed to cyber security principles and practice for almost 20 years by virtue of my primary degree in Computer Science, internship and subsequent career in both technical and non-technical roles. Heck I’ve even spent the last three years as Technical Marketing Manager of QUB’s Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT), the UK’s Innovation & Knowledge Centre for Cyber Security, a role which sees me regularly speak to businesses, students and contributing to TV, radio and print media on the subject of technology vulnerabilities, threats and breaches. The role also involves bringing new cyber security technology, the output of much of our ground-breaking research, to market.

Why participate?

I participated in the 8 week long online course for three reasons:

  1. I’m big enough to admit that I don’t know it all – even in my own field of expertise there is always scope to learn new approaches and relearn concepts that I may have forgotten. This course offered me a chance to look at cyber security with fresh eyes.
  2. Working day to day in a research and innovation environment at the very bleeding edge of cyber security technology it is all too easy to forget how the person on the street views my area of expertise. This course allowed me the chance to step back from that edge, think about cyber security from an end user perspective and consider how our research and technology could be applied to solve the simple and mundane as well as grander challenges.
  3. Lastly, I wanted to kick the tyres on it. Prior to this course launching I had been asked by a number of organisations if we at CSIT could deliver similar entry level training. We had already delivered some internally to the wider QUB staff body and the question was whether or not we should package that up and produce an offering to business and community groups. I wanted to assess if the OU course would rule that effort worthless.

Did it pass muster?

In a word – yes.

The course surpassed my expectations to be honest. It wasn’t patronising, while it assumed no prior knowledge it explored more complex aspects of cyber security explaining them in an engaging way.

Those charged with information and cyber security in organisations and the wider world can often be seen as bad guys and girls in their own right. Blocking access to fun stuff on the internet and not allowing the latest whizzy consumer devices onto corporate networks without a satisfactory reason from an end-user stand-point. The first week explored the threat landscape in depth, explaining why cyber security matters to everyone and laid a solid foundation for the remaining seven weeks.

Over the last number of years many of the times I have been invited by the media to provide analysis on cyber security events has been due to password breaches.

It’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about bringing our LIOPA lip biometric technology to market. Week two covers the whole gambit of authentication even going so far as covering salting, hashing as well as multi-factor which is thankfully becoming the norm for most online services.

One area where I disagree with the course is its highlighting of password manager applications as a solution to remembering multiple usernames and passwords. Personally I see them as a significant risk and prime target for cyber criminals. Hack those and you have the master key for an individual’s whole online life.

Weeks 3 and 4 cover Malware and Networking & Communications adequately but it was Week 5’s focus on Cryptography which drew my attention. It’s an area which we at CSIT carry out significant research in areas such as Post-Quantum Cryptography,Physical Uncloneable Functions (PUF)-PKI and Fully Homomorphic Encryption.

The practical application of PGP is taught through the use of Mailvelope, a plug-in for Google’s Chrome browser that uses an implementation of the Open PGP standard. This is welcome but it goes to show that straightforward ways for the man/woman in the street to use PGP to encrypt communications is still a little way off in terms of user experience.

As the family IT go to guy weeks 7 and 8 coverage of what to do when things go wrong and managing risks is welcome. Its also a timely reminder for everyone to fully consider their own vast stores of digital information, prioritising which bits are most important and putting in place a regular backup routine to protect against loss.

Have I changed how I think about my own cyber security after completing this course?

Absolutely. Will I tell you the changes I have implemented as a result? Absolutely not. Why make it easier for the cyber criminals? Individuals and organisations are under constant attack. It is a case of when and not if your cyber security defences will be probed and breached – why make it easy for them.

Wider lessons for going back to basics.

Sometimes subject matter experts can be a little reluctant to admit that they may not be across all the basics in terms of their field. Instead they baffle the uninitiated with the more advanced aspects of their product or service. Looking once again from an amateur’s perspective can be enlightening.

Participating in this course has also opened my eyes to interesting use cases for some of CSIT’s innovations.

While this course may close off opportunities for us as an organisation to deliver similar training ultimately it educates a greater number of people in respect of cyber security who will demand greater security from service providers and technology providers. If it encourages more students to consider applying for our MSc Cyber Security or consider carrying out PhD research with us then even better.

Ultimately this will stimulate further the burgeoning global cyber security market benefiting CSIT and the wider industry in which we operate.

This blog post post was originally published by me on LinkedIn Pulse on 2nd Dec 2014 and can be found here.

Thoughts on the Apple #WWDC14 announcements, media crib sheet

I was asked last week by BBC Good Morning Ulster to come in to the show and talk about the announcements made at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference 2014. You can listen to it again here. Go to 55:50.

As with every media engagement I do I had done my homework the night before and prepared a crib sheet covering all potential areas for discussion which is shared with the show producer in advance so they can brief the presenter and prepare questions for them.

Tech bling
Little bit of tech bling. Always dress for the occasion – even if its only radio.

Having done a few of these now the key, in my opinion, is to get to the heart of the “so what” question. What does this mean to the person sitting in their car on their way to work or doing the school run? The trick is to avoid being over technical and to retain a level of company independence or favouritism – especially when contributing to the BBC.

I’m neither pro or anti Apple. While I use an MacBook for personal computing and an Apple iPad for work I also use a Google Nexus 5 phone and a Microsoft Window’s laptop for work purposes. It’s nice to have this broad level of experience when talking about new product announcements in this space.

The whole experience is definitely a positive one. If you are approached to contribute to programmes such as this I would highly recommend it as it allows you to hone writing and speaking skills for the day job.

In the end time only permitted us to discuss the Family Sharing feature. The full crib sheet is replicated below for those who haven’t OD’ed on WWDC commentary yet.

Intro

Apple announces new features that enable family sharing, home automation and our vital signs to be monitored all from our mobile phones.

Family sharing

Apple have announced a new family sharing feature in iOS version 8 for iPhones and iPads. This will allow whole families share and synchronise their photos, calendars and locations with each other.

  • Great for the busy family to keep track of each other and give parents piece of mind that their kids are where they say they are
  • Not so great for parents whose phones will be filled to the brim with selfies of their kids
  • Even worse for kids whose phones will be full of their parents selfies – take note Máirtín Ó Muilleoir’s kids
  • Definitely not good for kids bunking off school

There have been numerous examples of children running up hundreds, if not thousands of pounds of credit card bills due to innocently buying costly add-ons for games through the Apple App Store.

  • Last year a five year old ran up a bill of £1700 buying costly add-ons for a game called Zombie v Ninja in one ten minute period
  • Earlier this year Apple was forced to refund at least £20 million to disgruntled parents over in-app purchases made by their kids
  • Family sharing allows parents to implement tighter controls on App Store spending.
  • Kids can send App purchase requests to their parents phones when they wish to buy new games or make in app purchases.
  • Great for parents looking to reign in their kids spending on the Apple App Store
  • Not so great for some app developers who were making stacks of money from unsuspecting kids

Home automation

The smart home is now a key battle ground for companies like Apple and Google. Google recently bought Nest, a company that makes smart devices such as learning thermostats and intelligent smoke and carbon dioxide detectors for the home which can be controlled from mobile devices for a cool $3.2 billion.

Apples new Home app (HomeKit) allows an iPhone or iPad to control smart appliances, lights and locks around the home.

  • Partners include Philips, Honeywell and Osram that make a variety of smart widgets and lights
  • Great if you want to live in the home of the future and command all your home appliances by voice
  • Not so great when the power goes out.

Health app

HealthKit is a feature and package of tools that will allow developers to build bespoke apps around health and well being, from sleep monitoring and stress reduction to exercise and blood testing.

  • Great for helping to take pressure off a stretched NHS
  • Great for early alerting of serious health problems
  • Great for changing behaviour in unhealthy people
  • Not so great for couch potatoes
  • Question marks over patient privacy

The Dock – A poem by David Crozier

I am delighted and honoured that my poem “The dock” was chosen as the winner of the inaugural MATRIX Poetry Competition. I collected the prize on Saturday 5th October 2013 from Poet Laureate Carol Anne Duffy at a reading session she hosted in Derry~Londonderry as as part of Poetry Month and the 2013 City of Culture celebrations.

Collecting the inaugural MATRIX Poetry Competition Prize from Poet Laureate, Carol Anne Duffy and MATRIX Deputy Chair, Dr Norman Apsley
Collecting the inaugural MATRIX Poetry Competition Prize from Poet Laureate, Carol Anne Duffy and MATRIX Deputy Chair, Dr Norman Apsley

The inaugural competition, which was introduced by MATRIX to highlight the links between science and the arts, was to write a poem about any science related topic.

It was open to those people who study the STEM subjects or work in science/technology based industries. It was judged by Professor Iggy McGovern, Professor of Physics at Trinity College Dublin and award winning poet.

MATRIX, the Northern Ireland Science Industry Panel, is a business led expert panel, formed primarily to advise government, industry and academia on the commercial exploitation of R&D and science and technology in Northern Ireland.

My poem drew inspiration from the sounds, history and future of the area around the Thompson Dry Dock which my office overlooks.  It also draws parallels between the heavy engineering that the shipyard area was known for and the future, driven by research and development, carried out at my place of work – the ECIT Institute.

The motivation for writing the poem is simple. MATRIX Chair Bryan Keating asked me to. Sometimes being asked to do something is motivation enough.

My poem:

The dock

The sound of hammering and clanging ringing out from the dock
Regularly drifts in the sea breeze through my window.
This recording a remembrance of ocean liners engineered
In Belfast’s mighty shipyards once spread out below.

Now in this furnace of technology, an Institute of the future,
Researchers secure the digital tomorrow for one and all.
Transportation of a different kind their focus; of data and knowledge.
The brains of this nation answering Queen’s Island call.

For through science our pride will be restored once more,
Technology despatched through new venture creation.
Lessons learned, skills honed, motivation unsinkable
Let’s doff a duncher to this foundry of innovation.

Creative Commons License
“The Dock” by David Crozier is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.davidcrozier.co.uk/2013/10/07/the-dock/

 

How (not) to kill creativity; With thanks to Teresa M. Amabile – Part 1

Don't kill creativity

With the Digital Circle (DC) elections now done and dusted I felt it was timely to jot down my thoughts about encouraging creativity as its is broadly linked.  Further stimulus arrived on Monday by way of a tweet from one of the newly elected members of the steering group.  While this post isn’t aimed specifically at the work of that fine institution, there are parallels to some of the ideas raised.  DC is involved in the business of supporting digital creativity in all forms after all.  I am drawing shamelessly from the work of Teresa M. Amabile as well as on my own experiences from various roles. Continue reading How (not) to kill creativity; With thanks to Teresa M. Amabile – Part 1