Hi-tech for public good

10 April 2019

Shane Alcock WAND web
Lead developer for OpenLI Shane Alcock.

The University of Waikato’s WAND Network Research Group is the finals of New Zealand’s Hi-Tech Awards.

Based in the School of Computer Science, the WAND Group is involved with a range of computer networks projects mostly focused on network measurement, and for the Hi-Tech awards they’ve been nominated in the Best Hi-Tech Solution for Public Good category, for their programme OpenLI.

OpenLI is a collaboration between WAND and New Zealand internet service providers (ISPs), to develop an affordable software solution that would enable ISPs to meet their lawful interception (LI) obligations under the TICSA legislation. TICSA is the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Act 2013 which establishes obligations for New Zealand’s telecommunications network operators in two key areas – interception capability and network security.

Shane Alcock is the lead developer for OpenLI. He says existing solutions from network hardware vendors are expensive, about $100,000, plus ongoing licensing costs, and they don’t always meet the specific standards expected by law enforcement agencies.

“We were approached by some ISPs in 2017 to see if we were interested in working with them to develop our own compliant software and release it as open source for anyone to be able to use,” Mr Alcock says.

WAND worked with relevant agencies, mostly NZ Police. “The LI standards in New Zealand are public standards, so we set about writing our own implementation and testing with the agencies to make sure they’re implemented correctly.”

Mr Alcock says these ETSI standards (European Telecommunications Standards Institute) are widely used around the world, including in Europe, Asia and Australia, so the potential uses of the software go well beyond just the New Zealand market.

“The approach has been that WAND writes the software and the ISPs contribute funds to cover the development costs, which is mostly just my time, as well as providing example input data that we use for testing and evaluation.”

The funding from the ISPs has been entirely on a voluntary basis and last year WAND had nine different ISPs sponsor their work, each contributing between $5,000 and $15,000, and they’ve got others keen to come on board this year.

“We pushed out our first public release of the software in January this year and this is already either deployed or in the process of being deployed at several ISPs,” Mr Alcock says. “We have plans to continue improving the software to make it easier to use and to scale better under high load, and we're currently working on raising more funds from ISPs for another year or so of development.”

Director of WAND Dr Richard Nelson says they’ve had a lot of assistance from industry partners as they’ve worked on program development, including Dave Mill at Inspire.Net.

He says the primary beneficiaries will be ISP providers in New Zealand and through them, their customers. “New Zealand Police have identified 19 network operators that need to have LI capability under the Act and the primary benefit will be reduced costs.  OpenLI is free software and the hardware and software maintenance costs will be low compared to commercial products.”

The WAND group has a strong international reputation and has close links, including collaborative research, with several other network measurement groups. These include REANNZ, ESNet, Google, Cisco and CAIDA.

The winners of the national Hi Tech awards will be announced on May 24.

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