UCD network researcher combatting ‘ecosystem of connected threats’

18 Apr 2023

Image: Dr Madhusanka Liyanage

UCD’s Dr Madhusanka Liyanage explains how his research and lecturing are all about developing ‘novel security and privacy solutions for the connected societies of the future’.

Dr Madhusanka Liyanage is keen to highlight the importance of network security.

With numerous awards including an Irish Research Council Ally prize, an SFI Connect Prof Tom Brazil Excellence in Research award, and a ranking among the top 2pc of scientists worldwide in his field, Liyanage knows what he’s talking about when he says people should practise good cyber hygiene and not take the security of the latest 5G and 6G networks for granted.

“Some people assume that 5G/6G networks are inherently secure because they are new and use advanced technology. However, this is not necessarily the case. In fact, new technology will always introduce new vulnerabilities,” Liyanage explains.

Liyanage is an assistant professor, Ad Astra fellow and director of graduate research in the School of Computer Science at University College Dublin (UCD). He has authored or co-authored more than 150 publications and secured more than €5m in research funding for various projects.

He is also an expert consultant at the EU Agency for Cybersecurity (Enisa). In 2021, he became a funded investigator at the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) Connect research centre.

‘Security and privacy are critical for 6G to become a platform for a networked society’

Tell us about your current research.

I am the coordinator of the Network Softwarization and Security Labs (Netslab) research group at the UCD School of Computer Science. The group mainly focuses on the security and privacy of future mobile networks, including 5G and 6G.

Netslab is a relatively new research unit that consists of nine members including three postdoctoral researchers and six PhD students.

In addition, I am co-supervising six other PhD students form University of Oulu, Finland, University of Sri Jayawardenepura, Sri Lanka and IIT-Roorkee, India.

At Netslab, we conduct research on various aspects of network softwarization and security, such as network slicing, software-defined networking, and edge computing. The team has a particular interest in the use of blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) to enhance the security of future mobile networks.

By exploring and developing these technologies, Netslab is positioning itself as a leading research group in the field of network security.

I am also leading two large EU Horizon 2020 projects: SPATIAL and CONFIDENTIAL6G.

SPATIAL aims to build a pathway toward a trustworthy European cybersecurity sector, enabling trustworthy governance and a regulatory framework for AI-driven security in Europe.

We are working on developing verification and validation mechanisms to ensure AI transparency and explainability in the development of security solutions beyond 5G and 6G networks.

The CONFIDENTIAL6G project will develop cryptographic quantum-resistant protocols and security proofs tools, libraries, mechanism and architectural blueprints for confidentiality in 6G.

The involvement in these projects has helped me and my teams evolve. We have made considerable progress, and I am proud to lead these projects with a team of dedicated researchers and industrial partners.

In your opinion, why is your research important?

The novelty and complexity of 6G networks and their pervasiveness across all aspects of life bring new security and privacy problems.

Adversaries become more powerful, intelligent, and capable of creating new forms of security threats, even using AI techniques.

It is envisaged that mobile networks will be the main infrastructure to interconnect other IoT-based critical services such as healthcare, transport, and energy sectors. Thus, a successful attack on B5G (Beyond 5G)/6G networks would significantly impact society.

Therefore, security and privacy are critical for 6G to become a platform for a networked society and need to be addressed under one umbrella that covers many topics. The research we are working on has significant potential to address this ecosystem of connected threats.

In addition, as a university lecturer and PhD supervisor, I am focusing on training a new generation of innovators and providing them with the expertise needed to develop novel security and privacy solutions for the connected societies of the future.

What inspired you to become a researcher?

My interest in research started when I worked on my final-year project during my undergraduate studies. I was part of team that designed a low-cost automatic toll gate system.

During my graduate studies, I became even more interested in the research process and the impact it could have on society. This experience inspired me to pursue a research career and focus on using technology to solve real-world problems.

What are some of the biggest challenges or misconceptions you face as a researcher in your field?

As a researcher in the field of telecommunication network security, I face several challenges and misconceptions.

One of the biggest challenges is the need to continuously update my knowledge and skills. With each new generation of mobile networks comes new technology, which means that the threat landscape is completely different. This is happening every 10 years and mobile networks adapt lots of new technologies. It is mandatory to keep my knowledge up to date and to maintain constant collaboration with industries to identify industrial trends.

Another challenge is the complexity of future mobile networks such as B5G/6G networks. They are much more complex than previous generations of networks, which makes it difficult to identify and mitigate security vulnerabilities. This complexity also requires a deep understanding of the network architecture, protocols and security mechanisms.

Do you think public engagement with science has changed in recent years?

Yes, there has been a greater public interest in digital services and their applications to everyday life. In order to fully adapt to these digital services, people needed to understand the technology behind them and start trusting these services.

As a researcher in the field of 5G/6G network security, I encourage engagement with my research work by disseminating the results across various channels.

As a scientist, my main method has been to publish my research in reputable scientific journals and conferences.

In addition, I also try to make my research accessible to the public through podcasts, webinars and talks about the importance of network security in the era of 5G/6G networks.

By doing so, I hope to raise awareness among the general public about the importance of network security and the potential risks associated with the use of digital services.

Ultimately, my goal is to encourage engagement and dialogue between researchers, industry professionals and the public so that we can work together to create a safer and more secure digital environment.

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