Vertical Markets

Cyber centre

by Mark Rowe

An interdisciplinary team from UK universities is behind an £8.6m cyber security centre with the aim of keeping citizens safe online.

Led by the University of Bristol, the academics are also from Bath, Edinburgh, King’s College London and UCL (University College London), across a range of fields including – not limited to – Computer Science, Law, Psychology and Criminology. REPHRAIN – Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online – will seek to consolidate the UK’s academic, industry, policy and third sector, and led by Bristol University, will provide a single body to engage with government, industry and citizens. The centre will work on:

Development of a REPHRAIN Map of privacy, harm and adversarial influence – developed during the first six months and regularly updated to provide a co-created and shared understanding of the landscape.

Creation of a REPHRAIN Toolbox – a shared set of resources for researchers, practitioners, policymakers, regulators and citizens – providing a Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) testbed, datasets, benchmarks, reference scenarios and validated novel tools, methods and prototypes.

Capability Fund – £2.5m to grow REPHRAIN’s capabilities and outputs to enhance the UK’s capacity in protecting citizens online.

Awais Rashid, Professor of Cyber Security at the University of Bristol and Director of REPHRAIN, said: “The Internet has provided a range of innovative ways to come together, share information and engage with each other across the globe. However, this large-scale information sharing has also highlighted a range of harms – from child abuse to hate campaigns and the spread of disinformation.

“The urgency of new scientific advances to protect citizens from a variety of harms without stifling data-driven innovation is highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis. We have a pressing need for data-sharing to track and contain the pandemic, whilst preserving privacy and preventing spread of disinformation through global scale social networks.”

“It’s a challenge that spans all areas of our lives and one that we are ready to tackle, by bringing together the greatest minds in the country, across a whole range of disciplines.”

Dr Asma Vranaki, Lecturer in Law at Bristol is Policy and Regulation lead for REPHRAIN; her interests and research include data protection, and privacy. She said: “Through its world-leading interdisciplinary research, REPHRAIN will identify and address the wide-range of online harms which citizens encounter in today’s data-driven economy including cyber-crime, disinformation, unlawful use of personal information, opaque data processing and weak data privacy rights. The Centre will develop innovative and holistic regulatory and policy approaches to reduce online harms which empower citizens and provide policymakers, regulators and industry with evidence-based guidelines, recommendations and solutions to tackle harmful digital activities.”

REPHRAIN has funding from UK Research and Innovation’s Strategic Priorities Fund.

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