Aberdeen University research into how to prevent hackers exploiting human weaknesses to disrupt key IT networks has received a six-figure funding boost.
The UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has awarded a grant of £756,000, taking the total funding for the three-year project over the £1million mark.
Large-scale cyber crime has become an increasing concern internationally following damaging viruses such as WannaCry.
The NHS was among victims of the so-called ransomware attack, with computer systems affected UK-wide, including two Grampian GP surgeries.
In a separate incident, a hacking group managed to take over the Aberdeen City Council website for two hours back in January.
That required a £60,000 upgrade to the local authority’s computer system.
The research project is aimed at preventing businesses and public sector organisations falling victim to cyber-attacks and is named the ‘Supporting Security Policy with Effective Digital Intervention’ (SSPEDI) project.
A team from the university’s department of computing sciences want to find new ways to prevent hackers fooling people into downloading malware through methods such as fake emails.
Matthew Collinson, the principal investigator on the project, said: “If we look at most cyber security attacks, there is a weakness relating to human behaviour that hackers seek to exploit.
“One of the main problems faced by companies and organisations is getting computer users to follow existing security policies, and the main aim of this project is to develop methods to ensure that people are more likely to do so.”
The researchers want to use artificial intelligence to influence people to be more cautious with cyber-security and develop software to analyse people’s attitudes to certain security policies.
“Ultimately we are looking to employ all of these techniques to identify the issues that make us less likely to follow security advice, and make recommendations as to how these can be overcome.” Mr Collinson added.
Although the project is based in Aberdeen, it involves collaboration from overseas universities, Aberdeen City Council and National Grid.
The project coincides with the launch of a new Masters degree in artificial intelligence at the university.