Our research

The Optus La Trobe Cyber Security Research Centre is developing a multidisciplinary research agenda in cybersecurity. The Centre enables La Trobe University to build on its established relationship with Optus. Through the Centre, there will be academic input into the growing national cybersecurity ecosystem. Its focus is one of cybersecurity and cyber intelligence tools, techniques, law, ethics and regulation. It will extend existing contextualised expertise in machine learning, and other AI techniques, for cybersecurity, information and cyber law and policy, cybersecurity skilling and training, and cybersecurity ethics. Based in the School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, disciplinary expertise will be drawn from the La Trobe Law School and other areas of the University.

The cyber environment is changing rapidly not only for individuals but for the economy more broadly. Very few areas of society are now so pervasive in our everyday life. It is no longer just an IT issue. Increasingly cyberdependence brings with it cybervulnerability: a vulnerability that is assessed to impose a multibillion-dollar burden on the Australian economy each year.

Cyber is now at the intersection of the technology, legal, social and financial spheres with potentially immediate economic, national security and legislative implications. While governments and the broader society become more aware, another demand is placed on board rooms to oversee and anticipate the potential benefits and risks.

Key challenges we face

While human nature seeks certainty, cyber is at the leading edge of ambiguity. Simple single dimension approaches will not be appropriate. Companies will not only be placed at greater risk by poor security, but growth opportunities will be missed if they do not properly understand the risk of cyber-based initiatives. The key to successfully managing the cyber environment and its consequences is to move to an approach that is both multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary.

Some of La Trobe’s cybersecurity research priorities include:

  • *Australian cyber strategy, law and policy: ethics, legislation, regulations, ontology of cyber war, cyber military maturity, cyber situation awareness, red teaming, cyber effect operations, privacy, surveillance, resilience, cybersecurity awareness, economics of security and privacy, setting national research and development priorities.
  • Cyber technologies: situational awareness, visualisation, network intrusion detection, resilience under cyberattack, case studies of cyber attackers, critical infrastructure protection, phishing, cyber weapons, cyber armaments, cyber effect operations, robotics, usable security, privacy, trust, industrial control systems.
  • Cyber people: education strategies, policy, needs analysis, cybersecurity awareness, human dimension of security, workforce evaluations and management, worker professionalism, ethics.

Key projects

Establish a software simulated Smart Grid test environment

Project leads: Dr Paul Watters and Dr Abdun Mahmood

Goals

  • Identification of vulnerabilities
  • Development and evaluation of controls
  • Development and evaluation of attacks
  • Detection of attacks and evaluation of response

A multi-layered approach to detecting malicious mobile advertising

Project leads: Dr Paul Watters and Dr Abdun Mahmood

Goals

  • Develop a mobile app to detect and block malicious advertising in mobile browsers by:
    • Developing a sandboxed environment for contained execution, observation and control
    • Enabling traffic analysis of sandboxed environment for anomaly detection and behavioural classification
    • Establishing a signature database of identified threats
    • Providing threat intelligence to authorities and institutions for response

Efficient and secure cloud-based healthcare systems for the storage of electrical medical records

Project leads: Dr Naveen Chilamkurti

Goals

  • Develop a cloud-­based database to store national electric medical records (EMRs), where each EMR is encrypted using attribute-based encryption (ABE) to protect data privacy and to enforce fine-grained access control based on attributes.

AustCyber project with Optus, Cybermerc and deception.ai

Cyber Intelligence Research Project

The rate of development of new malware means this is a constant problem to suppliers of networked services. This project develops solutions to the problem of identifying malware by collecting network traffic. It also allows the opportunity of research into real-time network forensics, intrusion detection systems and customer protection systems.

Real time zero ransomware attack detection (OCSC)

Project lead: Dr Paul Watters

A joint project between Federation University Australia, the University of Melbourne and La Trobe University. Project funded by the OCSC and Westpac to build a novel system to detect previously unseen ransomware samples before they can encrypt hard drives and demand ransom from users. The project will deliver novel ransomware classification and detection techniques, with extensive testing on novel samples.

Auto-internet warnings to prevent the viewing of minor-adult sex images (ARC Discovery)

Project lead: Dr Paul Watters

This project is funded by the Australian Research Council and is a collaboration between the University of Tasmania, La Trobe University, University of Canberra and University College London. Since the advent of the internet and digital cameras, the market for child exploitation material (CEM) has boomed. This project aims to explore how the visual appearance of warning messages influences internet users. It plans to conduct a randomised controlled experiment with na├»ve participants on a real-life website to test the effectiveness of messages designed to discourage viewers of legal ‘barely legal’ pornography. It is anticipated that results will assist policing efforts by indicating whether warnings can be used to dissuade first-time CEM viewers and whether differences exist between harm or deterrent-focused messages.

Postgraduate research program

La Trobe offers a range of research degrees including practice-based and thesis options. We also offer an Industry PhD, which allows students to embed themselves within a private, government or not-for-profit organisation and take on a specific cybersecurity challenge. Scholarships are available.