Cyber Security

Locks, keys and alarms are everyday items people use to help with security - but what do you use in cyberspace?

Leading the way in cyber security

In a world that’s more connected than ever, unprecedented amounts of information about ourselves is shared who-knows-where on a daily basis, whether through the internet, our phones, in-store purchases, or storing data in the cloud. Then there’s all the personal information held about us by health providers, schools, banks …

Most of us have no idea where all this information goes, who sees it, how it’s stored or how many copies have been made – and if your information is deleted, has it really disappeared off the face of the digital planet?

Director of the New Zealand Institute for Security and Crime Science and Head of the University of Waikato’s Cyber Security Lab Associate Professor Ryan Ko wants to change that by giving us greater control of our data and privacy.

“At the present time, there’s not a lot you can do to protect your data unless you’re a geek. Researchers at the University are working to return control of data to everyday people.”

- Dr Ryan Ko

Big problems require big solutions; Dr Ko’s team of international researchers and postgraduate students has worked with everyone from the New Zealand Police and the Defence Force to INTERPOL, most recently hosting the international ISO (International Organisation for Standardization) conference on global standards in cyber security.

Businesses such as Deloitte and Gallagher also seek out the expertise of the University’s researchers, looking for ways to secure data linked to confidential client information and billions of dollars of assets.

The University’s cyber security team, ‘CROW’ (Cybersecurity Researchers of Waikato), has worked with INTERPOL on research to recognise the origins of global bitcoin transactions, a digital currency notorious for being untraceable – and often associated with drug payment and ransomware attacks.

It was Dr Ko’s background in security and cloud computing at Hewlett-Packard’s Cloud and Security Lab (in Singapore, Palo Alto and Bristol) that secured him the job at the University of Waikato in 2012.

In Singapore, he had made scientific breakthroughs that changed the global understanding of cloud data provenance; his cloud data tracking innovations continue to be used around the world.

At the time, there was no cyber security programme at the University of Waikato, although the need was clear.

To fight future threats of cybercrime – which cost the world US$450 billion in 2016 alone – a whole new generation of cyber skills had to be developed.

Cyber security experts in high demand

Demand for trained professionals in cyber security is increasing globally at 3.5 times the rate of the overall job market; it’s an industry with a near-zero unemployment rate.

To keep up with demand, Dr Ko’s team established New Zealand’s first Master of Cyber Security, alongside the country’s first Cyber Security Lab. From humble beginnings, the Cyber Security Lab now represents 17 nationalities, contributing to cyber security on a national and international level.

The University’s researchers are helping the New Zealand Government to implement its Cyber Security Strategy.

Dr Ko is part of the eight-member New Zealand Cyber Security Skills Taskforce that advises the Minister for Communications.

Together with his PhD and Honours students, their research in mobile privacy-preserving electronic voting won a Best Paper Award in a prestigious cloud computing research conference, and was mentioned in the Prime Minister’s National Cyber Policy Office’s annual report.

This ground-breaking work continues the University’s proud legacy of online innovation.

In 1989, the University’s John Houlker brought the internet to New Zealand via a historic collaboration with NASA.

Today, Dr Ko’s team honours this legacy by working to ensure online and internet-linked environments around the world are safe for everyone.

New Zealand Cyber Security Challenge

With new cyber security threats emerging every day, the University takes its responsibility to engage and educate future generations seriously.

In 2014, it launched the New Zealand Cyber Security Challenge, an annual competition where the country’s brightest minds become cyber defenders in a game that produces the data needed for researching predictive analytics, attack and defence behaviour.

About 400 school students, university students and industry all compete remotely in the initial online round of the much-anticipated event, which culminates in a final stand off in the University’s computer labs.

Dr Ko says the hacking part of the challenge is the hook for attracting high school students – allowing them to turn their perhaps ‘informal’ skills into a career.

Cyber threats

As cyber security threats multiply, Dr Ko’s team continues to innovate, leading the way in industry trends and opportunities for improvement.

The University of Waikato is the lead in the STRATUS (Security Technologies Returning Accountability, Trust and User-centric Services in the Cloud) alliance of cloud security researchers.

In 2013, the STRATUS joint cyber security project was awarded a $12.23 million research grant by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), the largest computer science research grant in New Zealand’s history.

It is now recognised worldwide as a leader in the fields of data provenance, homomorphic encryption and cloud computing security.

“STRATUS is a mirror image of what we are trying to do here with our research, creating a brand new industry of DIY security to take to the world,” says Dr Ko.

Following the 2017 launch of the New Zealand Institute for Security and Crime Science, a new degree is also in the planning for future University of Waikato students.

The Master of Security and Crime Science will be the first qualification of its kind in New Zealand, targeting current and future law enforcement and security practitioners.

The multi-disciplinary course has the support of the New Zealand Police, with its first intake of students in 2018.

At the University of Waikato, we're investing in New Zealand’s security, training the next generation of cyber security specialists and exporting our expertise and innovations across the world.