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Keeping our smart technology safe

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New research and innovation will keep our “smart tech” safe from sophisticated cyber threats.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly. Millions of us use internet-enabled technologies to monitor health or control heating, businesses rely on connectivity, and national infrastructure benefits from remote monitoring and control.

But increased use and capability opens the door to new cyber threats.

Now a new £30 million research and innovation programme will ensure the UK becomes a world leader in tackling some of the most damaging cyber security, cutting costs to businesses and protecting consumers.

Building on current expertise and investment, Ensuring the Security of Digital Technology at the Periphery, will seek to ensure these systems are safe and secure. It will be delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) through the Strategic Priorities Fund.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive Professor Sir Mark Walport said:

“As we live and work in environments where internet connected devices are increasingly used to assist many aspects of our lives, our vulnerability to broader and more sophisticated cyber-threats increases.

“Through the Strategic Priorities Fund, UKRI brings together policy makers, academia and industry to drive collaborations that will tackle some of the key challenges in this area.”

Smart internet connected devices can include anything from operating a central heating thermostat via a smart phone, to pressing a button to unlock the front door. There are expected to be more than 420 million such devices in use across the UK within the next three years.

This programme aims to ensure that IoT systems are safe and secure, particularly as more critical applications emerge meaning there is increased vulnerability to broader, more sophisticated cyber-threats. The programme will investigate combined cyber and physical safety and security alongside human behaviour and provide evidence for required regulation.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: 

“This could be a real step-change in computer and online security, better protecting businesses, services and consumers from cyber-attacks resulting in benefits for consumers and the economy. With businesses having to invest more and more in tackling ever more complex cyber attacks, ‘designing in’ security measures into the hardware’s fabric will not only protect our businesses and consumers but ultimately cut the growing cybersecurity costs to businesses. 

“This is our modern Industrial Strategy in action. Building on the UK’s heritage and strengths in computing and cyber security alongside the Government and industry investing together to ensure the UK capitalises on its position to become a leader in the growing markets and technologies of tomorrow.”   

Nearly all UK businesses are reliant on digital technology and online services, yet more than 40 per cent have experienced a cyber security breach or attack in the last 12 months.  Hackable home Wi-Fi routers can be used by attackers in botnets to attack major services and businesses. Moreover, consumers are often the worst affected by mass information leaks than the organisation that held their data.  Businesses are having to spend increasing amounts on cyber security, up to 20-40% of their IT spend in some cases.  And as more and more systems are connected, whether in the home or businesses, there is a need for security that is secure by design.    

Digital Minister Margot James said:

“We want the UK to be a safer place to live and work online. We’re moving the burden away from consumers to manufacturers, so strong cyber security is built into the design of products. This funding will help us work with industry to do just that, improving the strength and resilience of hardware to better protect consumers from cyber-attacks.”

The Strategic Priorities Fund is being delivered by UKRI to drive an increase in high quality multi- and interdisciplinary research and innovation; ensure that UKRI’s investment links up effectively with government research priorities and opportunities; and ensure the system responds to strategic priorities and opportunities.

Programme summary

Ensuring the Security of Digital Technology at the Periphery Funding: £30.6 million

An Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled world, where devices and sensors in our homes, workplaces and infrastructure are connected to the internet and each other, offers huge potential, not only measuring our health data, travel habits and energy consumption, but also aiding understanding and automating control in our critical national infrastructure, such as power stations and transport networks.

The more devices connected, and as local AI is added, the more links and dependencies between systems are created.  This potentially presents significant risks, with cybersecurity emerging as the predominant threat to intelligent inter-dependent systems; there is a need to have assurance that systems will behave appropriately, even in unforeseen circumstances.

This programme aims to ensure that IoT systems are safe and secure, particularly as more critical applications emerge meaning there is increased vulnerability to broader, more sophisticated cyber-threats.  Effective solutions need to combine cyber and physical safety and security with human behaviour, influence new regulatory response and validate and demonstrate novel approaches. This will build on current investments including the PETRAS Internet of Things Research Hub and other activities supported through IoT UK.

Innovate UK are delivering an £11M Demonstrator programme as part of this programme. The first phase of business-led demonstrators, with up to £6m available, will first focus on three key areas of IoT cyber security: the resilience and recovery of data, intelligent control systems for industry and commercial buildings, and the digital home. Future phases and challenges of the £11m business-focused programme will be announced in subsequent years.

The programme is being led by UKRI Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) with Innovate UK and with policy support from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Home Office.

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