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Adrian Shaw talks about SECURED – a European project to improve the security of connected devices

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Interview conducted by Simon Firth, freelance technology journalist

 

shaw_web.jpgHP Labs is a lead partner in a three-year, collaborative research project that aims to enhance the security of all network-connected devices. Funded by the European Commission and launched in 2013, SECURity at the network EDge (SECURED) is designing an innovative architecture that offloads the execution of security applications from network endpoints, such as mobile phones, into programmable devices at the edge of the network, like home gateways, enterprise routers, and servers.

 

We recently caught up with Bristol-based Security and Cloud Lab researcher and chief architect for SECURED, Adrian Shaw to learn more about the project.

 

 

HP: Why do we need a research program like SECURED?

The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend of letting people use their own devices at work shows no sign of letting up – and it’s making security much harder to manage. For one thing, the different platforms and different applications people are running all offer different levels of security. At the same time, these security configurations are getting more complex, and yet we expect end users to have an expert understanding in how to configure things like firewalls, parental controls, anti-virus software, and so on. The arrival of internet-connected devices like smart TVs and smoke alarms only exacerbates the problem – many of these at present have almost no security at all. All of these trends suggest we need a new approach to device security. What we’re doing with SECURED is trying to help the situation by increasing the standard level of protection for all of these devices that are on the edge of the network.

 

HP: How is SECURED doing that?

We’re using two main concepts. One is to move complex security applications away from the device and into the network, so people don’t have to figure out how to keep everything secure themselves. That way, we can provide a baseline of protection for all devices in a network. The other concept is to provide a standardized set of rules – which we call policies – that let administrators create common configurations for security applications running on edge devices. That ought to create an ecosystem of security experts all sharing the same standardized policy language and help make more of the various devices in any network more secure.

 

HP: How did HP get involved in this effort?

The project was initiated by researchers at the Politecnico di Torino, Italy. As providers of technology from small edge devices to massive networking servers, as well as the full stack of networking software services, HP was a natural industry partner to work with. Our Bristol, UK, lab was a particularly good match because of our expertise in trusted computing and security. The other major industry partner is the European telecom, Telefonica. Then we have the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, the United Nations, the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, and the Cypriot telco PrimeTel. It’s a very well-rounded group, each with a lot to add.

 

HP: What is HP Labs role in this?

There’s an industry-wide push going on right now to virtualize networks. We’re trying to abstract networking away from specific, proprietary technologies and, as a result, free network providers from being locked into any one technical approach to providing their services. At HP Labs, we know a lot about how that trend is developing and we also want to be sure that the solutions being adopted are highly secure - so one main focus for us is managing the architecture design work that is going into SECURED and developing the design specifications. More generally, we’re looking to advance the state of the art in terms of trust and security – and of course we’re hoping that what we’re doing will impact our own HP products and services.

 

HP: What makes the project an interesting research challenge?

Networks are gradually getting more programmable. Technologies like software defined networking, for example, are offering more agility and flexibility in how we deploy services. This is going to keep evolving and it will revolutionize how we think about networks. But these are still early days, and one of the biggest problems we face at present is that expecting all these edge devices in a network to ensure their own security creates a host of security and trust problems. So if we’re going to enjoy the fruits of programmable networking, we need to be doing it within a framework that builds in new levels of security from the start. This involves providing strong assurance and audit mechanisms anchored in the platform hardware and firmware, so you can be certain that your security applications are running safely. Our lab has a lot of experience with trusted computing and trusted infrastructure, so we have a good chance of making some progress on this.

 

HP: How is the project going so far?

We’re a year in and it’s going well. We’ve finished an initial architectural specification for the SECURED infrastructure design, which should be released in the new year. Then we’ll take feedback from the community and look to improve it further.

 

HP: How might things be different for consumers if the technology being developed through SECURED is widely adopted?

For any mobile device, you won’t need to install extra bulky or complex apps just to make it more secure. You’ll be able to take your device to work and be covered by security standards and policies embedded in your employer’s corporate network. When you are elsewhere, you’ll be protected by the standards adopted by your network provider. You’ll be saving battery life, and the security of all your applications on all your devices can be controlled by one set of rules. The bottom line: Wherever you go, you’ll have the peace of mind that your security is taken care of.

 

 

For more information, visit the HP Labs SECURED research page http://www.hpl.hp.com/research/security-and-cloud/secured.html

 

For information about the SECURED consortium, visit https://www.secured-fp7.eu

 

 

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