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World leaders in cyber security – part one

A two part interview with the academic team who lead on the MSc Information Security programme.

Written by Lucy Bodenham |

RHUL Staff and students at the Information Security Group open day
Dr Mersinas and his colleagues talk about the strengths of the first university in the UK to deliver a programme on information security.

We spoke with Dr Konstantinos Mersinas, Programme Director of the MSc Information Security programme, and his fellow colleagues from Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL) about what defines it as a leading centre in the field of information security. Dr Mersinas graduated from the programme back in 2003 and then joined the security industry.

In the second part of this article we will also discuss cybercrime issues in the interconnected world and tips to be aware of to stay safe.

Apart from the full certified status by the UK Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) in 2014, what else makes Royal Holloway a leading centre for information security?
The information Security Group (ISG) at Royal Holloway was the first university in the UK, and very likely in the world, to deliver a programme in information security. The on-campus MSc programme was launched back in 1992.

The strengths of the programme are many; we maintain close links with the industry and government, who both advise on the development of the programme. The relationship is constantly expanding with over 4000 alumni from the programme now working as cyber security professionals.

The ISG is also one of the largest academic security groups in the world. We conduct research into many different areas of information security, including, but not limited to, cryptography, systems security, social and behavioural aspects of cyber security, smart cards and IoT security, critical infrastructure protection, and many more.

How does the MSc programme prepare students to handle the cybersecurity challenges of the future?
Many of the module leaders and programme tutors are graduates of the RHUL programme who are now either full-time information security professionals or active researchers. This means that our staff bring real-world experience of the principles and practice of applied information security, but also new research. They enrich the course material, based on their experience and research activities offering both practical and theoretical perspectives. They look ahead to the potential problems and possible solutions of the future because that's what they are doing as part of their professional lives.

What software do students have access to when they study this programme, for example there is an industry-sponsored Smart Card Centre?
The Smart Card and IoT Security Centre (SCC) has a dedicated development and showcase space. This enables students to develop end demonstrate solutions, projects and demos on smart cards, microprocessors, Trusted Execution Environments (TEE), mobile devices, embedded systems and a plethora of IoT devices. Open source, including blockchain and smart contract, and proprietary embedded system low-level software development tools along with dedicated equipment are available for student projects.

What sort of sectors does the programme enable students to go into, and can you mention some of the sectors which still require more support in terms of recruitment?
Information security is a subject that is really applicable to all sectors these days. All types of organisations need to secure their data and transactions and this is evident from the breaches which make headlines: security vulnerabilities and incidents do not ‘discriminate’ across sectors. So, health care, aerospace, entertainment, media, finance, retail, energy, education, telecoms, pharmaceuticals, construction, transportation, literally any industry you can imagine has an increasing need for security professionals. There are also many cyber security provider organisations, developing and offering a wide range of cyber security products and services, who employ significant numbers of our graduates.

In terms of career support and advice, what is available to students studying the programme via distance learning?
We provide an ‘employability micro module’ organised by the Careers Group at the moment. This is available to our students and the goal is to allow for career planning aligned with international trends in professional markets. Students have access to various materials and receive careers advice. The idea is to have a common platform for students and employers, and again, to utilise our alumni students who can significantly contribute to career and employability discussions.

With thanks to Konstantinos Mersinas and his colleagues Simon Bell, David Alexander, Raja Naeem Akram, Konstantinos Markantonakis and Lubna Ali for their ideas and contributions to the article.

If your interest is piqued by this article the free Massive Online Open Course (MOOC), Information Security: Context and Introduction, can expand on your skills, knowledge and career options within the industry. The course covers cryptography, security management and network and computer security. You can study it completely online over a period of five weeks.