Grants promote cybersecurity research

NUS Computing researchers were actively involved in four of the15 projects recently awarded more than $16 million in grants to develop cyber tools and technologies designed to strengthen Singapore’s defence against rising global cyber threats. The awards were announced on 18 September by Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the opening of the Singapore Week of Innovation and TeCHnology 2017.

Two of the projects involving NUS researchers were awarded under the National Cybersecurity R&D Programme, which aims to develop capabilities in key technology areas to meet Singapore’s cybersecurity needs, with a focus on national security, critical infrastructure and smart nation.

One idea uses automated solutions to help malware analysts and security response teams understand similarities across malware used in attacks and quickly identify the perpetrators. This is especially useful as it becomes increasingly challenging for people to analyse malware and identify its evolving code base and developers. The project was done by Associate Professor Liang Zhenkai and Professor Abhik Roychoudhury, in collaboration with cybersecurity and antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab Singapore Pte Ltd.

“Malware analysis is a critical step in incident response, by which analysts aim to understand the malware for better detection and attribution to its source. This state-of-the-art analysis is heavily dependent on human expertise. In this project, we will use a combination of program analysis and learning techniques, together with real-world malware data-sets from well-known incidents, to enhance automation and increase an analyst's productivity in malware attribution,”  explained Assoc Prof Liang.

Another project is an antimalware solution by Professor Ooi Beng Chin, Distinguished Professor of Computer Science, and Assistant Professor Wang Wei, together with local company SecureAge Technology Pte Ltd and the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore. The solution is expected to be highly accurate and efficient in detecting and identifying new and stealthy malware, and able to adapt quickly to new trends and changes in malware population while incurring small memory and central processing unit footprint. 

The other two projects were awarded under a seed grant call by the Singapore Cybersecurity Consortium anchored at NUS to spur the commercialisation of cybersecurity technologies and innovative ideas.

Associate Professor Chang Ee-Chien and Assoc Prof Liang partnered local start-up InsiderSecurity and the National Cybersecurity R&D Lab to work on a testing environment for security technologies which would simulate various network-based attacks coupled with an automatic measurement framework, and which could serve as a demonstration platform for solution developers.

"This project is a synergistic collaboration between industry and academia to tackle real-world cybersecurity challenges. Businesses and agencies may use this testing environment for rigorous security solution testing, demonstration and validation. In addition, security solution providers could also use this platform to raise their capabilities and engage potential clients, especially those from overseas, more effectively in the near future," said Assoc Prof Chang.

The final NUS-related project looks at training a deep learning network to model normal behaviour in a cyber-physical system, while detecting anomalies due to cyber attacks in the networked sensor time series using a realistic complex dataset from the Secure Water Treatment Testbed. It was led by Dr Ng See Kiong, Deputy Director of the Institute of Data Science at NUS, in collaboration with ST Electronics (Info-Security).