AIT spearheads 2nd phase of major EU cybersecurity research effort

Researchers from Athlone Institute of Technology have launched the second phase of a multi-million-euro cybersecurity research project called PROTECTIVE aimed at combatting the growth of cybercrime through special detection and monitoring systems.

PROTECTIVE, an EU-funded H2020 project, is a €4.16 million cybersecurity safety net designed in partnership with several commercial and academic partners, including the University of Oxford and Technische Universitat Darmstadt, to help organisations pinpoint and alleviate threats to their computer networks.

Now in its ‘operation testing’ phase, PROTECTIVE uses a smart awareness tool for cybersecurity management and an enhanced threat awareness system to improve security monitoring and shared threat intelligence. It shields networks from threats like viruses and worms and gives security teams greater visibility and awareness of attacks. This innovative software solution empowers organisations to recognise and neutralise network threats as they arise making it easier to protect the most vulnerable computers on a network.

According to Mary Pidgeon, a project PROTECTIVE research engineer at Athlone Institute of Technology’s Software Research Institute (SRI), cybercrime is a world-scale problem of prodigious proportions. “The significant growth in malicious activity online helped considerably by the proliferation of new technologies, means that cybercrime is now costing the world economy €600 billion annually. This escalation has led to a massive technology arms race between attacker and defender with the two engaging in a cybersecurity game of cat and mouse,” she said.

Defenders, such as Mary, name cybersecurity attacks as one of the biggest threats to society today. “Everyday someone somewhere receives unsolicited, SMS or email messages asking them to click a link. Many people make the mistake of opening attachments that install a virus on their device and steal sensitive financial information.

“These cyber threats can look official and many people fall for them. The next thing they know, their bank accounts have been emptied. Ransomware is another common cyberthreat unleashed by cybercriminals. Upon gaining access to a PC, attackers lock the owner’s computer files and refuse to grant access unless a ransom has been paid,” she added.

To combat this, Mary and her project PROTECTIVE colleagues are creating tools to improve the awareness of the risk posed by these cybersecurity attacks. “Our hope is that our PROTECTIVE software will ultimately form part of a network monitoring kit with two main innovations: the sharing of information on attacks known as threat intelligence with other network monitoring organisations and providing a model of the network that shows which are the critical assets i.e. the most important computers on a network. By creating a system through which data and security information can be collected, processed and shared, organisations can enjoy enhanced decision-making capabilities,” she said.

The PROTECTIVE software is designed to service Security Incident Response Teams (CSIRT) and National Research Education Networks (NRENs), like HEAnet in Ireland, but will also be made available to managed security service providers (MSSPs) who in turn provide assistance to SMEs vulnerable to cybercrime. “Small to medium-sized companies often have limited resources and can struggle to protect themselves online. This coupled with what often is a limited understanding of cybersecurity and what needs to be done to safeguard their networks, means that they are particularly at risk,” she finished.

The PROTECTIVE project commenced in September 2016 and is being led by Dr Brian Lee, Director Software Research Institute at Athlone Institute of Technology, and includes key research partners from the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland, England and Germany. Its commercial partners include email Laundry (Ireland), SYNYO (Austria), ITTI (Poland) and GMV (Spain).

The three-year project is funded by the EU Horizon 2020, Europe’s research and innovation programme aimed at securing Europe’s global competitiveness through world-class science and technology research. PROTECTIVE’s next software deployment is scheduled for January 2019.

For more information about project PROTECTIVE, see https://protective-h2020.eu/

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