Vital national infrastructure could be potentially targeted by cyber criminals

Research to scrutinise cyber-risks to infrastructure

A new £2.5m research project will assess the risk posed by hackers and various cyber criminals to the UK’s vital infrastructure.

Co-funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the project, coordinated by the Imperial College London-based Research Institute in Trustworthy Industrial Control Systems (RITICS), will look at vulnerabilities of power stations, the electricity grid, rail network or manufacturing plants in the era of all-encompassing Internet connectivity.

“Where control systems are linked to the Internet we need to understand how failures could cascade across the system. We will be looking at new ways of repairing damage to systems if an attack happens,” explained Professor Chris Hankin, the leader of the project.

“We need to address how to approach network maintenance for industrial control systems, particularly as most systems operate on a 24/7 basis. So we will be looking at how we can ensure better protection without compromising performance.”

The £2.5m research project jointly carried out by Queen’s University of Belfast, the University of Birmingham, City University London and Lancaster University, will examine how malicious software can penetrate the networks of vital infrastructure operators and cause harm.

The risk of cyber attacks to vital infrastructure is a relatively new threat. While in earlier times industrial control systems were completely isolated to keep them secure, the benefits of interconnected networks and access to the Internet have outweighed the concerns and opened up new avenues for possible attackers.

The research teams will work with industry partners to understand and analyse the risks from cyber attack, examine how risk is communicated to business and provide effective interventions to counter the risk. Metrics and software tools will be produced so that non-technical decision makers can assess cyber-security in the context of their business.

Apart from the EPSRC, the research is funded through the UK’s National Cyber Security Programme, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure and GCHQ.

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