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Researchers at the University of Birmingham will form part of a new 5m multi-university Research Institute to improve hardware security and reduce vulnerability to cyber threats.

Funded by EPSRC and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) , the Research Institute in Secure Hardware and Embedded Systems (RISE) is one of four cyber security institutes in the UK and will be a global hub for research and innovation in hardware security over the next five years.

RISE will tackle the global problem of cyber threats through four initial component projects, which will be led by UK research partners from Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Cambridge, University of Bristol and University of Birmingham. These universities are all recognised by NCSC and EPSRC as Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research.

An advisory board will also be created to allow member companies and stakeholders to engage with the research and to inform future funding calls around the Institute’s research challenges.

Professor Maire O’Neill, a leading cryptography expert at Queen’s University, has been selected as Director of RISE and will work towards increasing the nation’s academic capability in all fields of hardware security.

The Internet of Things has led to increased demand for hardware security research and innovation with growing security needs in embedded and networking devices, as well as in cloud services. An increase in the use of smart devices means that there are now many new attack methods and surfaces for criminals and hackers to exploit. Recent attacks against personal computers, mobile devices, smart meters, home automation devices and network-connected cars have posed serious security and privacy issues.

Counterfeit devices are also an issue, which could lead to cloned hardware and further attack surfaces for hackers.

Birmingham’s main contribution to the Research Institute will involve evaluating and designing user-controlled hardware security anchors, leveraging current and future hardware components to establish a secure interface between the user and the systems they are using. This will improve security, privacy and trust in a range of devices, and our researchers will work closely with industry partners to directly contribute to improving tomorrow’s commercial off-the-shelf products.

Birmingham’s main industrial partner in the project will be HP Inc., building on their established relationship with cyber security at Birmingham. Professor Mark Ryan , lead investigator at Birmingham on the RISE project, also holds the HP Research Chair in Cyber Security. Industry involvement in the project and the Research Institute will be essential in generating impact to ensure the next generation of hardware devices are secure.

Professor Ryan said, "Putting security at the hardware level of systems is attractive because it is less vulnerable to being altered or circumvented. Our contribution to the institute will consist of evaluating hardware-based security mechanisms, and building on them to create secure authentication mechanisms."

Professor O’Neill, Queen’s University Belfast , said: “There is huge demand for hardware security research and innovation. As CSIT is renowned for its high-quality research in this field, and its emphasis on commercialisation of research, we are delighted to host RISE.

“RISE is in an excellent position to become the go-to place for high quality hardware security research. A key aim is to bring together the hardware security community in the UK and build a strong network of national and international research partnerships.

“We will also work closely with leading UK-based industry partners and stakeholders, transforming research findings into products, services and business opportunities, which will benefit the UK economy.”

Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of EPSRC , said, “The new Research Institute will increase our understanding of hardware security technology, leading to pioneering new approaches and fostering collaboration between leading researchers, the National Cyber Security Centre and industry partners to make the UK a more resilient nation.”

Dr Ian Levy, NCSC Technical Director, said, “I’m delighted to see the formation of our latest Research Institute, RISE, concentrating on the potential of new hardware security technologies.

“I think that the inclusion of hardware-based security capabilities in commodity devices could be a game changer in our fight to reduce the harm of cyberattacks and so I’m really pleased to see a strong set of initial research projects.”

Simon Shiu, Security Lab Director, HP Labs Bristol, said, “With the increasingly hostile threat environment it is important to build cyber resilience from the hardware up. HP applies this approach to its own products, developing some of the most secure printers and PCs in the world. HP’s involvement in the project to make authentication more secure through hardware is part of our ongoing investment in the HP Research Chair at Birmingham University, and reflects our commitment to help drive cyber-security research forward.”