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Cyber security research student wins Connected Nation Pioneers competition

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Cyber security research student wins Connected Nation Pioneers competition

  • Date11 December 2018

A postgraduate research student has won a coveted award from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) Connected Nation Pioneers competition.

Thyla van der Merwe

Thyla (Left). Photo credit to Dan Tsantilis.

Thyla van der Merwe, postgraduate research student, EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security at Royal Holloway, won the award for the Safe and Secure Cyber Society category for her work with the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol, which secures communications on the web.

The Transport Layer Security protocol is used by millions of people on a daily basis, protecting online purchases, Facebook logins, and instant messages.

Over the course of the last 10 years, TLS has suffered a number of increasingly practical attacks, leading the creators of the protocol, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), to develop a new version of the protocol, TLS 1.3.

In contrast to previous versions, the IETF has welcomed academic analyses of the protocol prior to its official release, so as to catch and remedy weaknesses before the protocol sees widespread adoption.

Thyla’s work has contributed to this newer, collaborative standardisation effort, covering both sides of the TLS design transition.

Thyla found attacks against TLS 1.2 and earlier versions that uncover user passwords and has analysed TLS 1.3 prior to its release, uncovering a serious attack which called for a fix of the protocol.

Thyla van der Merwe, said: “The Transport Layer Security protocol is the de facto means for securing the web and is used by millions, if not billions of people on a daily basis.

“This award recognises not only the importance of this critical protocol, but also all of the hard work done by the researchers and industry professionals who have contributed to its development.”

Professor Keith Martin, Director of the EPSRC CDT in Cyber Security at Royal Holloway, added: “Thyla is an absolute star.

“It's one thing conducting original and meaningful research, but quite another being able to communicate the importance of the work in clear, imaginative, and prize-winning ways.

“We are proud that the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Cyber Security at Royal Holloway has provided a research environment which enables exceptional talents to flourish.”

The competition is organised by EPSRC with sponsorship from major industry partners. It aims to recognise and celebrate exceptional UK doctoral research students in the digital and ICT arena, who have demonstrated the commercial potential and impact of their research to business.

The EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Cyber Security at Royal Holloway was established in 2013, and has as its main objective to produce cohorts of highly-trained researchers with a broad understanding of cyber security. The CDT is hosted by the Information Security Group (ISG), and provides multidisciplinary training to annual cohorts of around ten students.

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