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UNSW cyber security research backed the UK’s NCSC

UNSW Sydney researchers are set to receive support from the British government to advance cyber security technology, which the researchers are designing to protect critical computer systems from cyber attacks.

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Mon, 04 Jul 2022
UNSW cyber security research backed the UK’s NCSC
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The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) will fund UNSW Engineering’s Trustworthy Systems research group to boost development of its seL4 microkernel technology.

According to Scientia Professor Gernot Heiser, leader of the Trustworthy Systems team that invented the technology, the NCSC has been evaluating seL4 for some time now and is working with its defence industry partners to deploy it in real-world computer systems.

“NCSC is funding us to accelerate the ability to apply and deploy seL4 to more complex IT systems, in addition to the embedded devices we’ve been targeting to date,” Professor Heiser said.

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“Besides being used in many civilian applications, seL4 is already in use by the UK government and in other countries.”

When built into the core of a computer’s operating system, Trustworthy Systems’ pioneering seL4 technology provides “bullet-proof isolation between computer programs”, designed to stop an affected component from compromising others.

In a statement, NCSC said that funding UNSW to undertake this project would substantially boost the future capability, performance and assurance of seL4 across a wide range of modern processors and systems. They said its development plays an important role in the next generation of high-assurance devices.

The NCSC has also joined the sel4 Foundation this year, which was established by Trustworthy Systems in 2020 to direct and coordinate the standardised development of seL4 open-source technologies, in another show of faith in the technology. Professor Heiser is the chair of the seL4 Foundation.

Governments and organisations all around the world can benefit from the seL4 microkernel, Professor Heiser added, to protect a wide range of critical systems and infrastructure.

“Everything we do is open-source, which means it’s freely available to everyone, including the work that’s being funded by NCSC,” Professor Heiser said.

“The entire seL4 community will benefit.”

The Trustworthy Systems group is also undertaking research with the UAE and Swiss technology company Neutrality, among others, to deploy the seL4 microkernel in specific applications, including mobile phones, drones, internet-of-things devices, and protecting humanitarian organisations from cyber attacks.

The international support for the UNSW research and its use in real-world systems is a “thrilling” advancement.

“It accelerates the technology and will enable the strongest possible cyber security for our critical infrastructure and organisations large and small,” Professor Heiser concluded.

[Related: Norway hit by cyber attack, blames pro-Russia hacking group]

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