Oxford University and London University will receive £7.5m government funding for cyber security research.
The government and research council funding aims to address the national shortage of cyber security experts and boost the number of doctoral graduates with relevant skills.
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The University of Oxford and Royal Holloway college, University of London, will develop doctoral courses with related research projects to give graduates the skills needed by business and government to resist cyber attacks.
The universities will draw on a wide range of expertise to provide multidisciplinary doctoral training. They will also engage with industry to ensure the training is fit for purpose.
“Businesses are facing more cyber attacks than ever before, putting their confidential information and intellectual property at risk,” said David Willetts, universities and science minister.
“We must do everything we can to tackle this threat and make them less vulnerable.”
According to Willetts, the two doctoral training centres will produce a new generation of cyber security specialists, using their skills and research expertise to improve cyber security and drive growth.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) will provide £5m of the funding as part of its work in the National Cyber Security Programme.
The remaining £2.5m will come from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) as part of its Global Uncertainties Programme.
“Cyber security matters because the virtual world and the real world are conjoined and interdependent, from our hospitals to transport networks to the financial sector or our armed forces,” said David Delpy, chief executive of the EPSRC.
“Without the type of research being supported by EPSRC and our partners, the ability of individuals, businesses and our infrastructure to work effectively, productively and safely will be restricted and made vulnerable.”
The University of Oxford will focus on emerging technology themes and cover some of the most pressing cyber security challenges, including the security of big data; effective systems verification and assurance; and real-time security.
The Royal Holloway training centre will focus on problems faced by businesses and government such as provably secure cryptographic systems and protocols; security of telecommunication networks and critical infrastructure; trusted and trustworthy platforms; and organisational processes and socio-technical systems.
Doctoral training will last four years and, between them, both centres will produce at least 66 PhD graduates in the next seven years, with the first students expected to begin training this autumn.
Last year, the two universities were among the eight awarded Academic Centre of Excellence status by the UK intelligence agency GCHQ.
Royal Holloway was also selected to form part of the UK’s first research institute to investigate the science behind cyber security.
Security industry representatives have praised the government for its growing efforts in the fight against global cyber crime.
“Despite recent controversy over how cyber security funding is being allocated, it seems that new initiatives continue to be announced,” said Ross Brewer, managing director and vice-president of international markets at security firm LogRhythm.
“Modern cyber criminals are experts in their own right, so it makes sense to build an army of graduates with the relevant, highly specialist skills needed to combat them.”
In the light of the fact that cyber crime continues to evolve, Brewer said it will be critical to increase the level of intelligence-sharing among cyber security experts, both in the UK and worldwide.
“This is key to keeping abreast of the rapidly changing tactics and targeting techniques that we are witnessing,” he said.
While welcoming the announcement, Brewer said it will be important to monitor the progress of such initiatives closely, to ensure they deliver the desired results.
“With much debate still ongoing over the government’s security spending priorities, there is little room for error if the UK is to be seen as a beacon of expertise,” he said.