University of Manchester links up with global e-commerce player to prevent cyber security attacks

Multidisciplinary scientists from The University of Manchester are to work with one of world’s leading e-commerce businesses on a major research project to help prevent cyber security attacks.

A collaborative research team led by Prof Mikel Luján, Director of the Arm Centre of Excellence at The University of Manchester, are to work with THG, one of world’s leading e-commerce businesses on a major research project to help prevent cyber security attacks. THG has world-class technical and research teams who will be applying their findings to the cutting edge of UK and global digital security through the project.

The £5.8m project, known as Soteria, runs for three years and three months starting in January 2021. Soteria is being funded by Innovate UK’s Digital Security by Design (DSbD) initiative which aims to prevent hackers from remotely taking control of digital systems such as autonomous cars, personal computers or smart home security systems, as well as protect businesses from cyberattacks and data breaches.

The Soteria project is also partnering with Oxford University and is one of two new research programmes announced by Innovate UK. Soteria will specifically work with Arm’s technology platform prototype Morello to understand how to improve security and enable the development of new cyber security services and products.

The team at University of Manchester will contribute technical expertise on managed runtimes, such as Java Virtual Machines (JVM), software verification, smart network technologies, and business optimisation. An example of new technology that will be investigated at The University is a JVM capable of harnessing the new security features of the Morello platform central to the DSbD iniative and developed by Arm Ltd.

Managed runtimes are complex software needed to execute the most popular programming languages, such as; Javascript, Java, Python, Ruby, C#. Thus, Soteria has the potential to improve the security of a large share of the software that as society we have come to rely upon.

Research findings from projects such as these are much needed given that almost half of UK businesses reported cyberattacks or breaches last year. The global e-commerce market is also expanding rapidly, a trend which has only been further accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Online retail in the UK accounted for about 20% of total retail spending in 2019 and is forecast to be well over 50% by 2030.

Dr Richard Allmendinger, Business Engagement Lead at Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS) and Senior Lecturer in Data Science, said: “It is fantastic to have been awarded this timely grant, and collaborate with THG, a global Manchester-based e-commerce giant, our colleagues from Computer Science, and Oxford University on the emerging technical and productivity-related challenges around cybersecurity.

“Alliance MBS is thrilled to be making use of its research expertise in decision science and innovation to lead the work strand around understanding and quantifying the impact of cyberattacks on productivity, and then using these insights to enable optimised business decisions. The Soteria project also provides a great opportunity to complement the work of the recently launched Productivity Institute at AMBS.”

Professor Mikel Luján, Arm/RAEng Research Chair and Royal Society Wolfson Fellow, said: “The University of Manchester has a world-leading track record collaborating with Arm Ltd., and as such is recognised as an Arm Centre of Excellence. Soteria is a very exciting opportunity to contribute to the Morello platform developed by Arm Ltd. with our expertise in runtime systems (such as JVMs), software verification and computer engineering. This collaboration with THG and Oxford University provides a unique opportunity to transform the security foundations of the digital infrastructure of e-commerce as well as improve the security of UK companies.”

Soteria will complement existing projects led by The University of Manchester such as, Sprite+ and Cyber Foundry which are aimed at researching and improving digital security, privacy, identity and trust.

Digital Security by Design Challenge Director John Goodacre said: “The project led by THG will provide a crucial demonstration of the security benefits DSbD technology can bring to the ecommerce industry.”