Protecting the future

Security research and innovation is an essential element of our cyber defence strategy. But it isn’t all about defending ourselves from attack. The global market for cyber security is enormous and our research helps us play a significant part in it. 

Effective cyber security boils down to two core elements: detection and response. We’re using AI and machine learning to expand our capabilities in both, focussing our extensive research on three main areas of interest: future cyber defence; securing future converged networks; and emerging security paradigms.  

Future cyber defence

Cyber defence is plainly a massive area. The world is already totally reliant on digital connectivity. And as the Internet of Things gathers pace, that’s only going to increase.  

The flip side of this unprecedented connectivity is a parallel increase in criminal activity. To counter this, we have a specialist Future Cyber Defence team researching new technologies, techniques and approaches to cyber security. 

We’re developing automated anomaly detection, which uses deep learning and pattern recognition; and we’re probing the use of automated/semi-automated threat response systems. We’re particularly interested in exploring the possibilities of team working between human and machine, playing to the strengths of both. 

Our approach to cyber defence is to deploy automation wherever possible, calling on mixed initiative processes for more complex threats. Following these principles, we’ve bolstered BT’s own security and strengthened our Global and Enterprise security product portfolios.  

Securing future
converged networks

The advances in connectivity technologies like 5G, fibre optics, wi-fi, and Bluetooth has fuelled our increasing dependence on converged networks. This is an area with enormous commercial potential for BT: we expect the global 5G market to reach over £24 billion by 2026. But that’s small fry compared to the IoT market, which we’re predicting will land somewhere north of £530 billion in 2023.

Our Converged Network Security team is developing the use of automation in network protection, with the help of research covering low-power crypto, next generation security-as-a-service capabilities for NfV (network function virtualisation) and SDN (software defined networks) environments, end-to-end security of 5G networks, security of critical national infrastructure, data protection, and post-quantum crypto.

We’re also looking beyond digital wizardry for inspiration, to biology.

The human immune system shares some core characteristics with cyber defence systems. Like a cyber security service, it operates at different levels throughout the protection cycle:

  1. In-depth defence: from the skin and mucus, through to B-cells and T-cells, the immune system makes sure the human body is as ready as it can be to repel any invading cells before they can cause any trouble. 
  2. Continuous monitoring: the body is continually assessing self vs non-self, always on the lookout for invasive cells.
  3. Action during attack: when invasive cells do make it past the first line of defence, the body automatically and rapidly increases the number of immune cells to help defeat the infection.

Emerging security

How will emerging and disruptive technologies affect cyber security? It’s a big question with no easy answer. But we’re trying to find one. 

People can use every new technology to both defend and attack computer networks. At the nub of this problem is an uncomfortable truth: it’s not only the good guys who’ve got technical smarts – the hackers, criminals, and hostile states that plague the internet are also extremely adept at research and innovation.

So in this area we’re focussing on fast-moving, high-potential initiatives with strategic importance to the security sector, like blockchain. We’re developing a proof-of-concept to demonstrate blockchain integration with data protection enforcement, IoT services and revenue management.

For future malware, we’re developing malware propagation modelling and simulation based on AI technologies. We’re also looking into the next generation of identity and access management, which could yield what many of us have been waiting for – a world beyond passwords.