EU funds help: Experts protect our security
20. 10. 2020
Attacks are no longer produced by people. Instead, they are generated by computer programmes. They are not tangible, are difficult to defend against and often cannot be condemned. In a centre of excellence in Brno, experts from the Faculty of Informatics, the Faculty of Law and the Institute of Computer Science of Masaryk University are researching how to deal with current cyber threats. Their work has also been supported by the EU with more than 190 million Czech crowns from European funds.
The Center of Excellence for Cybercrime, Cybersecurity and Protection of Critical Information Infrastructures was established in Brno about ten years ago. It brings together a unique combination of experts from Masaryk University who excel in information technology and law. Their goal is to create basic knowledge about a safe use of the Internet. The knowledge will then be used in practice, for example, by employees of the National Cyber and Information Security Agency.
COMBINATION OF SEVERAL DIFFERENT DISCIPLINES
The Centre, also called C4e for short, consists of three basic pillars. These are cybersecurity, protection of critical information infrastructures and law. Roman Čermák is in charge of them all. "My task is to create an environment for excellent researchers who interconnect various topics, whereby producing a more valuable result. The strength of the Centre lies in the ability to combine theoretical knowledge from multiple areas and then pass it on to those who use it in practice," the director explains.
Last year, scientists received a grant of almost 198 million from the European Union. Thanks to it, they can explore the issue even more deeply. "We succeeded as one of a few in a busy competition. Thanks to the funding, we can also involve international researchers, and it helps us to keep the existing ones. The funds can be spent over five years, which gives the scientists the certainty they need to plunge into research. In Brno, the competition of IT companies is huge," Čermák points out.
Pavel Čeleda, who is in charge of the cybersecurity pillar, agrees with him. "Brno is a city of information technology. It is difficult to keep people in research who have the vision of a quick profit in a company," he says.
According to Čermák, the reward for researchers is not only money but also the knowing that they are working on something socially beneficial.
Still, cybersecurity is one of the most attractive fields, which plays an important role in an increasingly digitized world.
"Cyber attacks no longer just mean that someone reads people’s e-mails. It may be the encryption of hospital data, and then lives are threatened. In addition, the virtual computer world is becoming an arena of power struggles. Cyber war has no borders, an attacker can go through several states. We attempt to stand up to these risks," Čeleda explains.
DEFENSE FOR THE NEAR FUTURE
Researcher Martin Drašar adds that the attacks will soon not be produced by individuals but by automated tools. "This is a relatively near future. Humans will be replaced by programmes that will develop themselves and adapt to what is happening on the other side. However, such programmes cannot be condemned," Drašar admits. It is this problem that Radim Polčák, a lawyer and head of one of the pillars, encounters with his team. "One of the areas of cyber defence is relations between states. When a country throws bombs on another, it is a clear use of force. But what is breaking into another country's system? We are investigating how to legally obtain evidence which we can then use in court,” he says.
Polčák remarks that when someone influences elections, it is an encroachment on sovereignty, but it is difficult to prove that it was organized by specific countries. "Fortunately, the Czech Republic is not in the front line of such attacks. This applies, for example, to the United States of America," he reassures. Experts from Brno also train NATO employees. For that, they use a cybernetic polygon, i.e. an arena that creates an environment of simulated attacks. "We are looking for a way to educate people so that they understand complex technical processes. Common attacks occur daily. Those organised by a nation state are less common but the greater impact they have. Moreover, they can last months," says Čeleda.
According to scientists, the Czech Republic has the advantage of having top experts in their fields, who, for example, stood at the birth of one of the first laws on cyber security in Europe.
Photo: Masaryk University