A pioneering new facility in the battle against cyber crime has been unveiled at Coventry University in the face of increasing threats against online security.

The so-called ethical hacking lab, which is part of the university’s faculty of engineering and computing, enables malicious hacking techniques to be simulated in order to find ways to combat them.

Senior lecturer in ethical hacking and network security, Brian Moore, said the lab was the result of a long-held ambition to be at the cutting edge of battling cyber crime.

“There has been a big rise in the types and numbers of cyber crimes that are taking place,” he said.

“The idea is that instead of being reactive we are proactive against the criminals and equipping ourselves with some of the same tools and techniques the criminals use.

“By using the same tools we can secure our networks better.

“We can simulate lots of different systems that are available and we can mount attacks on them to work out how best to stop them coming under attack again.”

The initiative has been made possible through a partnership with Leamington-based IT security specialist Nettitude. The company has donated around £17,000 of equipment to make the lab possible.

Mr Moore believes computer users and companies in particular need to be ever more wary in the face of a rise in cyber crime.

“Part of the battle is about raising awareness about security,” he said.

“People think they are safe because they have encryption but security is always multifactorial – there’s not just one element.

“Often it is about human error. If people are prepared to give passwords out or divulge information the battle is lost at that point.”

Mr Moore also highlighted the changing face of cyber crime, with new targets continually being sought and the fact it is far more organised than ever before.

“You only have to look at the newspapers,” he said. “Today there were three significant articles about cyber crime – anything from satellites to infrastructure.

“It is no longer War Games with some guy sitting in a room. You have teams of hackers, and there are thousands involved in some of these attacks.

“Sometimes one person is in charge and there are thousands of machines working as an army.”

Mr Moore also revealed it is a battle that will always have to be fought but believes taking the right steps is vital for businesses.

“What we need to do is equip ourselves and say what we can do and how we can combat it,” he said.

“We will never stop attacks from taking place but can certainly diminish the impact.

“If you can bring Google or Amazon down for just an hour the losses can run into several millions of pounds, so organisations have to be resilient to attack. If you walk along the street and are going to steal a car you are not going to steal the one with the most difficult locks but the one that is the weakest or easiest.

“You need to make your network such that it is too much effort to get into then hopefully the attackers will focus their efforts elsewhere.”

The new lab will also help to prepare students for the real world.

“We are equipping students with the skills and expertise that will prove useful to any sort of security company,” added Mr Moore, who said four students had already landed jobs at Nettitude.

“And it is not just theoretical – they are able to apply their knowledge.”

Jaswinder Rehal, a 2010 MSc graduate in forensic computing from Coventry and now a security consultant at Nettitude, said: “Information security is as important as running a business itself, though some businesses haven’t invested time into it. The implications of that are absolutely huge.

“I think it is very important that students are made aware of this area within their studies and having something like an ethical hacking laboratory is fantastic for students who want to get more of an insight into this world.”

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