All the Pieces (Alma) Matter – the ramblings of the RISE rookie

As a former QUB alumni, I am very excited to join my Alma Matter down at ECIT as Business Development Manager for RISE (you will get plenty of abbreviations in this post)!

RISE is the Research Institute for Securing Hardware and Embedded Systems with the aim to bring together industry and academia to make our more secure, in the world of connected everything (IoT).

I first heard the term “Internet of Things” in late 2012 when I was chatting to some security researchers (really smart people who wear white lab coats, brown sandals and Megadeath t-shirts) in a previous job. The reason for my meeting with them was to get a better understanding of Botnets, as we were launching a new Botnet detection and remediation product in early 2013, so I wanted some context about the threat landscape.

Ever since then, I have had an insatiable interest in IoT and view “smart” devices with equal helpings of fascination and suspicion. As consumers we have the currently have the choice to buy a smart device, or not. In time, this choice will recede and the new fridge we buy will be connected whether we like it, or not. I won’t get into the data security and privacy arguments, let alone who actually owns the ‘data’ that these connected devices collect in this blog, so may return to this topic later.

We are living through this new wave of technological revolution and sincerely, I hope that we learn from our mistakes when computers went online.

ETSI announed earlier this year, a new Consumer Code of Pratice, (TS 103 645) which is great for ordinary people. Secion 4.1, ‘No universal default passwords’ is great advice for manufacturers since weak passwords is a major cause for devices being compromised.

And in case you didn’t know, ECIT is the Institute for Electronics, Communications and Information Technology and is located at Catalyst Inc., formerly the Northern Ireland Science Park. ECIT was one of the first ‘new’ buildings with staff moving in here back in 2004; I say new, as we are right beside the Titanic Pump house which is over 100 years old. Here the infamous steam liner was fitted and kitted out before setting sail on that fateful voyage, its last touch point with the port of Belfast. Just beside the Pump House is HMS Caroline, the only surviving war ship from the brutal battle of Jutland in 1916.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a tourist post for Belfast and I promise to move on now, but as a history graduate, I do appreciate the local landmarks.

Not only do we have a view of local history from our office, we also work with many beautiful minds at ECIT/CSIT, with experts drawn from all over the world. It is an absolute privilege to work with true global experts in cyber security.

So we are surrounded by history, a proud history of Belfast with a city that is transforming with technology leading the way, from cyber security, to Fin-Tech to other local tech start-ups. Thousands of jobs have been created in this part of Belfast and many more are due to come in thanks to the great work done by Invest NI, Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and CSIT in recent years. Belfast has a reputation for world class cyber security research and it is bringing well paid jobs to the city.

I look forward to building engagement between multiple parties and taking the RISE brand with our university partners, Cambridge, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh to the wider UK ecosystem.

The title of this blog is a play on words from a famous quote from the TV show, the Wire (my favourite show of all time) uttered by Veteran Baltimore Police Detective, Lester Freamon at the start of the special undercover detail they are working on. The full quote was actually:

 We’re building something here, detective. We’re building it from scratch. All the pieces matter.

Thankfully, I don’t have to start from scratch with RISE as Lester Freamon did, the multi-institutional research centre has been running for 18 months already. But all the pieces do matter, as in the Internet of Things world, one device or system with poor or no security in-built, will cause problems for every user. Sadly, this is inevitable and we have already seen IoT Botnets that have infected gadgets from your home router, to IP cameras to smart locks.

Therefore, we will continue to build the RISE brand, establish engagement and forge connections between the academics and the creators of our new and soon-to-be-used gadgets.  

We are here to help, securing hardware and embedded systems and securing ALL the pieces that matter.