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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/T005572/1
Title: Secure Wireless Agile Networks (SWAN)
Principal Investigator: Beach, Professor M
Other Investigators:
Armour, Dr SMD Morris, Professor K Hilton, Dr GS
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
National Cyber Security Centre Roke Manor Research Ltd Toshiba
Department: Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Organisation: University of Bristol
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 December 2019 Ends: 30 November 2024 Value (£): 2,235,743
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
RF & Microwave Technology
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Aerospace, Defence and Marine Communications
Information Technologies
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
16 Jul 2019 Prosperity Partnerships RD3 Interview Panel 2019 Announced
04 Jun 2019 Prosperity Partnerships RD3 Prioritisation Panel Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
Wireless access is an essential to the networks that underpin modern life, providing communications for people, vehicles, machines, infrastructure, and the wide variety of devices that will make up the Internet of Things (IoT). They will become increasingly important to support safe transportation and future healthcare. Society is increasingly vulnerable to network cyber attack, for motivations ranging from financial extortion through terrorist disruption to subversion. Cyber attacks can be mounted remotely through networks, making them attractive to malefactors who can operate safely and anonymously from anywhere in the world. Cyber defence and associated research has become critical, mainly directed at developing and rolling out technical encryption and authentication measures in the network protocols and embedding the essential processes in organisations. Nevertheless exploits continue as attackers discover new vulnerabilities that were not considered in the system design or arise through imperfect implementations. Fixing these requires updating both functionality and credentials of the network elements as threats emerge.

By contrast cyber-attack via the wireless interface, exploiting vulnerabilities in the physical layer and lower layers of the protocol stack, has received much less attention. As network originated exploits become more difficult it can be expected that more attacks will be mounted through the "air interface". The means to develop and mount such attacks are increasingly available with the proliferation of low cost software-defined radio (SDR) platforms and open-source software, and the ubiquity of potentially hackable wireless terminals. More research on this problem is needed to find solutions to be retrospectively applied to existing systems, influence the next generation of wireless standards, raise awareness of the potential problems, and train engineers to develop and embed defensive capability in radio standards and products. Crucial will be the ability to change the physical layer functionality, right to the antenna, by changing system software. This is not possible with current equipment or indeed envisaged in the 5G. Apart from countering the security threat, such technology will be needed to enable the future adoption of Dynamic Spectrum Access (DSA), in which, rather than frequency bands being administratively licensed to specific users, spectrum will be allocated dynamically according to evolving demand in space and time.

The project partners, Toshiba Research, Roke, University of Bristol, and GCHQ, share a vision of Secure Wireless Agile Networks (SWAN) to be developed in this research partnership.

The project scope will include technical deliverables; the shaping of policy and standards; and the training and career development of the SWAN teams. The co-created 5-year programme will integrate academic and industrial teams in activities that address the following Research Challenges (RCs).

1. Threat Synthesis & Assessment: how can RF interfaces be attacked, beyond the threats envisaged in their design?

2. RF Cyber Detection & Defence: techniques to detect RF cyber attack and mitigate their effects.

3. Cyber Secure Radio Design: designing radios whose RF characteristics can be updated in the field to deal with new threats, which also enable DSA.

4. Secure Dynamic Spectrum Access: enabling technology for securely sharing spectrum for most efficient usage.

The consequences of not addressing the above will potentially make the wireless channel an Open Attack Surface for cyber attack. SWAN's technological solutions will place the UK at the forefront of enabling the fundamental parameters and architectures of wireless systems to be adaptable to new spectrum and interface specifications; resilient to accidental or induced failures (such as jamming); and resistant to cyber-attack.

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Organisation Website: http://www.bris.ac.uk