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Interview with Professor Neeraj Suri, Chair of Cyber Security

07 Jun 2024

Professor Neeraj Suri is Distinguished Professor and Chair of Cyber Security at Lancaster University and now fulfils this role at our campus in Leipzig. He brings with him a wealth of expertise: Since 1992 he has been researching and teaching in the field of Computer Science and Cyber Security at universities around the globe and has held guest positions at companies such as Microsoft. In a first interview with us, he talked about his visions for Lancaster University Leipzig and gave insights into his field of research.

What will you be aiming for at Lancaster University Leipzig?

I’ll be helping increase the profile of the university for interactions with the European Union, with the German funding organizations, and basically mentoring the researchers out here in the Department of Computer Science. A British university in Germany is an interesting concept. So my aim is to make people aware of what Leipzig does, what are the competencies, what are the areas we should focus upon, how we should build our identity out here. I want to be able to guide people, to garner funding across the system, and also get them to collaborate with industry and other academics in Germany and in Europe. So it’s a very different opportunity.

You have been a lecturer of Computer Science and Cyber Security for so many years. How would you explain this field of study and hasn’t it changed a lot over the years?

When we try to make secure systems, we would have an isolated system, almost like a bank locker, where you basically say the system is secure because we have a huge gate in front of it, and only authorized people can access it. Now, computers started becoming more and more pervasive, and the internet came around. I’m from a generation where the internet was starting. From this particular point on, the whole world was connected. Today, you’re connected with your phone, your home, PC, ATM machines, etc. So when large-scale systems like this start getting built up, you not only have to worry about things failing, but now you also have to worry about the fact that there is no single gate that is preventing someone access to your computer. So the concept literally is like a house with an entrance door. You want to make it secure, but you still want to give it access. So it’s intellectually challenging to look at this basic fundamental dilemma in computer science: How do you protect something which you want to be open? How do you organize the building blocks of computers and things to make them robust, to make them dependable, to make them secure? So it’s amazing how technology changes, how programming languages have changed, concepts have changed, the scale of systems has changed. And this is where the translation of my career has gone from fault tolerance to cyber security in a very natural way.

What are future questions and research areas you are dedicated to?

Artificial machine learning is adding another level of complexity, dealing with billions of parameters. So these are systems which have the capability of processing data beyond human capacity. And we have to make sure that the developments, guidelines, and concepts we make are fundamentally sound – and then converting them into security. So with the University of Bristol, Oxford, and Lancaster, I am leading a project called ‘Scalable Convergence of Ultra Reliable Infrastructures,’ where we are basically going to do plug-and-play security. When you have a scaleless system where all the computers around the world are interconnected with each other, and you want to provision security with new components being added all the time, components are being compromised. So how do you provide security in an ultra-large system environment? This is the new project that is actually going to start on the 1st of September for the next five years.

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