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The World-class R&D Powering Best-in-class CCR Cyber

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An interview with Pete Burnap, Professor of Data Science & Cybersecurity at Cardiff University’s School of Computer Science & Informatics.

The previous article in our “Digital Drivers of CCR” series featured the illuminating insights of Damon Rands, Founder of Wolfberry Cybersecurity, who shone a bright light on how businesses throughout southeast Wales benefit from a key enabler that’s mission-critical for any digitally powered enterprise – namely, the 24/7/365 cybersecurity that protects the digital connectivity and highly varied tech environments that increasingly characterises our region.

Damon noted how close collaboration between Business, Government and our world-class Universities has shaped a unique ‘Cyber Test Bed’ here in CCR – and in this ‘Cyber Part 2’ feature, we get the ‘R&D Perspective’ from Pete Burnap, one of academia’s foremost global Cyber experts.

The breadth and depth of Pete’s pioneering work across Cyber and the wider domains of Data Science is simply astonishing. Beyond his ‘professorial day job’, Pete is also director of the Cardiff Centre for Cyber Security Research, as well as director of Airbus’ only global Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Analytics … co-director of the revolutionary CCR-based Data Innovation Accelerator … and a highly respected member of the UK Government’s AI Council. Happily, Pete was able to find the time to disseminate deep science into a fascinating overview of how CCR’s academia and industry are working together to lead the cyber world – and at the same time offering a compelling vision of where these game-changing data disciplines could be taking us in the near-future ….

“Collaboration has seen us create advanced malware detection algorithms and integrate novel goal-oriented risk assessment models into the Airbus business”

“Collaboration is at the very heart of Cyber here in CCR. I lead AI for cybersecurity research at Airbus Cyber Innovation on a part time secondment – and I’m director of Airbus’ only global Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Analytics – so I’ve been able to witness at first-hand how this spirit of partnership can create major breakthroughs such as advanced malware detection algorithms, as well as the novel models for goal-oriented risk assessment being integrated into the global Airbus business. Since 2012 we have established an interdisciplinary research team of technical and social researchers, with collaborative projects receiving significant funding from Airbus, Endeavr Wales and UK Research Councils – and this coming together of industry, Welsh government and the wider R&D community is a blueprint for the way forward, globally and here in our region.

“Those commercial collaborations are really beginning to bear fruit. Our new Cyber Masters Programme is being run in partnership with PwC and CCR and bringing together a 15-strong cohort from across the region. It’s partnership working in action and a complete departure from traditional classroom-based learning, bringing together world-leading business advisors, technical experts and industrialists. And our work with Thales at the National Digital Exploitation Centre in Ebbw Vale is equally ground-breaking – showing the strength of Cardiff University’s reputation for working with industries to deliver real-world Cyber, AI and Data Science solutions.

“All of this connected, joined-up, hands-on partner working is vital in a number of ways – not just in creating much-needed collaborative solutions, but also beginning to build a critical mass of sustainable cyber skills in parts of our region that need a strong regeneration. The Cybersecurity skillset is very practical and suited to a logical mind that enjoys creating problems and solving them – and we’re seeing big recruitment campaigns being run by some our commercial partners such as CGI in Bridgend, all of which augurs well for a strong cyber ecosystem employing a diverse range of people in the CCR.

“Our work with Airbus, PwC and Thales demonstrates Cardiff University’s growing reputation for delivering real-world cyber solutions”

“It’s really important to know that people sit at the centre of all our activity in cyber, data, analytics and AI. The safety of systems, processes and data has a huge impact on all of us, at work and in our everyday lives. So, yes, we have made huge strides in machine learning over the past ten years, to the point where we’re now really getting to grips with the actual ‘nature’ of a dangerous entity such as a malicious link – and building the automated response environment that can make the right decision in dealing with that threat. But it’s still about people – the people we need to protect and the people who are ultimately creating that threat. That means we’re working closely with social scientists as well as data scientists – partnering with psychologists and criminologists as well as experts in STEM – to build the knowledge systems that are capable of making the right choices and taking the right decisions.”

“The scope and scale of our work in this field can’t be underestimated. Its importance can be measured on a societal and even philosophical level, as well as in terms of greater organisational, financial and economic performance – throwing up real-life questions such as “Why are people creating this malware?” and “What’s their true motivation?” These are questions we need to fully understand if we are to provide the right cybersecurity answers – which is why our 20-strong team has been involved in over £19m of awards and investments focused on fusing artificial intelligence, cybersecurity,  risk and human capital, giving us a greater understanding of the ‘Why’ behind cyber-crime and security threats as a whole: with cyber security analytics allowing us to study the actual ‘modus operandi’ of the attackers. It’s an incredibly complex field that’s entwining the data science disciplines with thought process patterns and the nuances of human behaviours – putting our work here in CCR at the very forefront of a cyber industry that can drive and safeguard our whole digital world.”