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The essays and event abstracts in this section share a focus on fundamental design principles and paramters of accountability towards ensuring secure, reliable and thus trustworthy computing environments.


Cybersecurity Webinar (Digital (Dis)Comfort Zone series)
Prof Simon Moore: The CHERI approach

Cybersecurity Webinar

hosted by the Trust & Technology Initiative and the Cambridge Judge Business School

In response to Covid-19 the global economy is reassessing and reimagining modes of consumption, supply, interaction, productivity and, last but not least - security. What does the accelerated move to the digital realm imply for cybersecurity and awareness of cyber risks?

Countering cyber threats successfully requires a focus on human behaviour as well as technology enhancement. The Trust&Technology Initiative convened a webinar that brought together two academic experts to look at both digital security by design and human factors, and at key areas of concern for cyber risk brought into sharper focus by the pandemic.

Prof Simon Moore:  "Toward trustworthy computer systems"

Simon spoke about his work on first principles of computing architecture as part of the CHERI project (Capability Hardware Enhanced RISC Instructions) for digital security by design. Many fundamentals of computing architecture were designed at a time when networking computers was not envisaged, let alone feasible. This results in legacy vulnerabilitites, where low-grade functions can now be exploited by attackers. The CHERI project aims to redesign those fundamentals and make computing architecture more resilient, and thus more trustworthy.

At the Department for Computer Science and Technology Simon conducts research and teaching in the general area of computer architecture with particular interests in secure and rigorously-engineered processors and subsystems, such as memory-protection features that safeguard against many currently widely exploited vulnerabilities. 

Dr Jennifer Daffron: "Increased rate of digitisation in response to Covid-19 - what it means for cyber risk moving forward"

Jennifer gave examples of the huge surge in commercial demand for digital solutions such as cloud storage triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, and touched on positive practices that businesses will need to develop to build an internal culture of 'healthy distrust' for adaequate cyberrisk awareness. 

Jennifer leads the research on digital risk at the Cambridge Centre for Risk Studies. Her research defines and exposes cyber threat vulnerabilities on organisational and human behavioural platforms for companies around the world. Jennifer holds a PhD in Experimental Psychology from the University of Cambridge and has published several papers on attentional templates in visual search.


Prof Simon MooreFundamentally more secure computer systems: the CHERI approach

In collaboration with SRI International (California), members of the Computer Architecture and Security groups in the Cambridge Computer Laboratory have spent over eight year exploring fundamentally more secure ways of building computer systems.  Starting with a conventional microprocessor, we have added augmented the hardware/software interface with new compartmentalisation primitives that allow security critical properties of software to be better represented.  This ensures that the hardware better understands the software that it is running, so is better able to run the code as the programmer intended, not as the attacker tricked it.  Compartmentalisation allows software to exploit the principle of least privilege, a fundamental idea in computer security dating back to the 1960s but is ill supported by prior computers.

Our new microprocessor (CHERI), operating system (CheriBSD based on FreeBSD) and compiler support (based on Clang/LLVM) can run existing software while allowing security enhancements to be added automatically via recompilation of the software, and through the developer adding compartmentalisation.  We have demonstrated automatic exploit mitigation of security vulnerabilities like Heartbleed (that his banking) and WannaCry (that hit the NHS), as well as mitigating common place buffer overflow/underflow and many return-oriented programming (ROP) and jump-oriented programming (JOP) attacks.

This radical approach was made possible through substantial US government funding (tens of millions of dollars) for a large team over eight years.  We have been able to straddle many levels of abstraction that commercially are typically different industries, resulting in market failure.  In particular, the hardware and software industries are separate, limiting their ability to optimise across the hardware/software divide.

We are currently working with large industrial players and government actors to bring the technology to the masses.  We believe that this new technology can make computer systems far more trustworthy than they are today.


Compliant and Accountable Systems

The “Compliant and Accountable Systems” research group takes an interdisciplinary (tech-legal) approach towards issues of governance, control, agency, accountability and trust regarding emerging technologies.

ICT continues to underpin everyday life. But what happens when it fails? How are those responsible held to account when things go wrong? How can we even determine who is responsible? How do we manage such risks? Can technologies be interrogated to ensure they are fit for purpose before deployment?

Such questions are particularly pertinent, as systems become gradually more pervasive and complex; technical environments progressively more data driven, autonomous and physical; and as visions of smart cities, smart homes and the Internet of Things become a reality.

In line with this, we see that technology is increasingly the subject of public discussion and regulatory attention - the EU General Data Protection Regulation is a prominent example. There is growing demand for improving levels of accountability regarding the technology that influences everyday life, not least as ICT/data related scandals are reported most daily.

Issues of compliance and accountability directly relate to trust, as they are key to both the adoption and public acceptance of technology, and to ensuring that the technologies deployed are, and remain, appropriate and fit for purpose, align with social norms, where those responsible can be held to account when and where necessary.

Towards this, the newly formed Compliant and Accountable Systems research group

works to better aligning technology with legal concerns, and vice-versa. The team, based at the Department of Computer Science & Technology, is multi-disciplinary, consisting of computer scientists and lawyers. Its focus is to tackle these socio-technical issues, by (a) exploring technical responses to legal problems, (b) providing legal input to guide technology development, (c) developing technical means facilitating compliance and accountability, and (d) interrogating legal frameworks for new and emerging ICT.

Core research team:
Dr Jennifer Cobbe
Dr Heleen Janssen
Dr Chris Norval
Dr Jat Singh


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