Airbus to build virtual reality cyber-centre for MoD

News by Doug Drinkwater

Airbus Innovations Group has been awarded a £1.4 million contract to build a Virtual Cyber Centre of Operations (VCCO) for the military, with the aim of helping the MoD detect and respond to cyber-attacks.

The contract, which was awarded to the company by the government's Dstl (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory), will see the Airbus technology research arm develop a 3D virtual world programme in a 16-month study which could lead onto a technology demonstrator, and eventually even the technology being “in the hands of soldiers on the ground”.

The Virtual Cyber Centre of Operations project will demonstrate how virtual collaboration might give commanders a better understanding of how they are being targeted by enemies on the battlefield. The VCCO concept aims to provide decision makers and SMEs with an overview of the shared cyber-environment, so they can understand where the threats might lie, and how they might collaborate securely to defeat those threats.

The aim, put simply, is to bring together the “right people with the right information and right capabilities, at the right time”.

The contract, awarded until March 2016 and funded by Dstl, has an initial worth of £1.4 million and also involves two SME subcontractors - MooD International and Xuvasi - which will provide visual analytics and event correlation data respectively.

Dstl cyber situational awareness capability adviser, Ben Parish, said in a statement: “We are pleased to be able to continue delivering excellent research on behalf of MOD through our industry partners. Cyber-technologies are constantly evolving and it's crucial for the UK's Armed Forces to keep abreast of these developments. The research into the VCCO concept contributes to MOD's understanding of how to be resilient to cyber-attacks and be better able to protect our interests in cyberspace”.

Dr Kevin Jones, research team leader of cyber operations at Airbus Group Innovations, added:  “This contract award follows four years of work with Dstl, and the collaboration and co-operation of multiple stakeholders.  As cyber-threats continue to develop both in complexity and technological advancement we are proud to be part of the MoD's next step into modern cyber-defence and understanding”.

Speaking after the announcement, Jones told that the research project between Dstl, Mod and Airbus spun out of an earlier contract with Dstl, but said that this latest contract is about building “an environment for collaboration and data analysis for cyber- security” with systems logs, network traffic and sensor data all in one place.

Specifically, he said that it would help analysts and other MoD staff to understand the flow of data, how to protect their physical and virtual assets, and to detect and mitigate against attacks. He said that units could use the centre to establish how multi-layered an attack was, whilst also patching in experts in real-time, a key issue given the widely-publicised skills shortage in cyber-security.

“It's about enabling people to communicate and collaborate to make better decisions, and to detect and mitigate against cyber-attacks," he told SC.

Jones added that the test environment will be based on a MoD test bed, where participants will have access to their usual investigation tools on a laptop, as well as the opportunity to examine the data further using the 3D Oculus Rift eyewear.

With it currently at an advanced proof of concept (POC) stage within its own research units, he hopes it goes on to become a technology demonstrator accessible by more levels at the MoD. He even suggested that the technology could eventually be used by “soldiers on the ground".

This research will help in the design and development of a new generation of Security Operations Centres (SOC), which give forces the ability to counter cyber-threats when they are deployed.

Geoff Harris, director of Alderbridge Consulting and a CESG certified professional, said in an email to SC: “This contract is another good indicator that the UK government is taking cyber as a tier one national security threat seriously”

“The UK is doing extremely well in developing and growing skills of the cyber-security profession and this contract should help to share those skills throughout the MoD”

“We need our national defence professionals to be skilled, armed and ready in the cyber-world”

This news emerged on the same day as the Pentagon investigated claims that the previously unknown ‘Islamic State Hacking Division' purported to have listed the names of 100 US troops online.

The group called on ISIS supporters to attack them, and claimed that the information was obtained from social media and by hacking military servers and databases.

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