UCL leads interdisciplinary research into Cybersecurity for the Internet of Things

14 January 2016

Internet of things visualisation

A new £23million research hub focusing on the Internet of Things will be led by the Vice-Dean of UCL Engineering, and features contributions from across UCL. UCL is one of nine leading UK universities appointed to look into the adoption of this technology, under the directorship of Professor Jeremy Watson, CBE FREng.

Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, has confirmed funding to drive forward UK research in the Internet of Things (IoT) – the idea of giving everyday objects the ability to collect and exchange data over networks. App-controlled thermostats and wearable health monitors are already well-known examples of the potential of IoT, which could expand much further if social and technical  challenges can be overcome. The consortium will work together over the next three years to explore critical issues to further IoT adoption, associated with privacy, ethics, trust, reliability, acceptability, and security; from which it gets the name PETRAS.

Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey said: “We want the UK to be a world leader in the adoption of Internet of Things technologies, and I know that bringing these universities together with partners from the UK’s thriving tech industry will be instrumental in making this a reality.”

The project is part of IoTUK, an integrated £40 million, three-year, Government programme that seeks to increase the adoption of high quality IoT technologies and services throughout businesses and the public sector. Funding for the Hub includes a £9.8 million grant from the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) which will be boosted by partner contributions to approximately £23 million in total. The investment will support research focusing on the challenges associated with the IoT, including interactions between, policy and governance, beliefs and behaviours at the interface of people and the IoT systems.

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC’s Chief Executive, said: “In the not too distant future almost all of our daily lives will be connected, in one way or another, to the digital world. Physical objects and devices will be able to interact with each other, ourselves, and the wider virtual world. But, before this can happen, there must be trust and confidence in how the Internet of Things works, its security and its resilience. By harnessing our world-leading research excellence this PETRAS research Hub will accelerate IoT technology innovation and bring benefit to society and business.”

The Hub is a consortium of nine leading universities, coordinated by UCL, working across five interdisciplinary themes, each with a technological and a social science lead. Those themes are:

  • Privacy and trust (Lead Universities: Warwick, Oxford)
  • Safety and security (Lead Universities: Imperial, Lancaster)
  • Harnessing economic value (Lead Universities: Imperial, Oxford)
  • Standards, governance and policy (Lead University: UCL; co-led by Sarah Meiklejohn, UCL Computer Science and Jason Blackstock, UCL STEaPP)
  • Adoption and acceptability (Lead Universities: Warwick, Lancaster)

Additional support and leverage comes from over 47 partners from industry and the public sector.

UCL staff Andy Hudson-Smith (The Bartlett, CASA), Steve Hailes (UCL Computer Science), and Susan Michie (UCL Centre for Behaviour Change) will each oversee ‘constellations’ of projects within the hub — ambient environments, health and care, and cyberhygiene respectively. The planned first wave of projects includes work to maintain smart meter users’ privacy, ensure the safety and security of IoT healthcare devices, and document perceptions of the IoT, among many others. Additional to his overall directorship, Professor Jeremy Watson (UCL STEaPP) is co-leading the project on ‘Infrastructure’, encompassing subjects such as national security threat analysis. Future projects will adapt and respond to new issues, trends and innovations as and when they emerge.

Hub Director and Vice-Dean of UCL Engineering, Professor Jeremy Watson said: “We will maximize the economic and societal opportunities of the Internet of Things by removing barriers to adoption.

“Working with business, public, and third sectors will enable the PETRAS IoT Hub members to investigate questions of safety, security, privacy and trust within real life settings.

“The UK has the potential to be the world’s most supportive environment for the development and deployment of a safe and secure Internet of Things. We will raise the bar using innovative collaborative and interdisciplinary research methods.”

Innovations at the Hub will be created hand-in-hand with those who will use them, melding cutting-edge science and engineering with social sciences to create concrete action. This will build solid foundations for technological innovations that are socially beneficial, inform evidence-based policymaking, and position the UK to benefit from the coming IoT technology.

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