Cybersecurity, a new research foundation in Italy

Cybersecurity, a new research foundation in Italy


The official baptism is scheduled for December 13th. The University of Salerno will raise the curtain on the newly formed Italian foundation for cybersecurity research. Serics, an acronym for Security and rights in the cyber space, is the name of the institution that will make its debut in society under the eyes of the president of the Campania Region, Vincenzo De Luca, of the national anti-mafia prosecutor and anti-terrorism, Giovanni Melillo, and the Minister of the Interior, Matteo Piantedosi.

The IT security foundation is the result of a strategy of the Ministry of University and Research (Mur) , which was looking for a formula to allocate 1.61 billion of European funds from the National Recovery and Resilience Plan ( Pnrr) to basic and applied research. And it has 13 "sisters", collaborative projects between universities, research centers and private individuals ranging from artificial intelligence to telecommunications, from precision medicine to neuroscience. With checks ranging from 106 million from the infectious disease program led by the University of Pavia to 138 from the project on quantum technologies, led by Camerino, the 14 "large extended partnerships", as the ministry hailed them, have funds to forage for the next three years basic and applied research.

The project:

Research on cybersecurity Study programs A question of bureaucracy Funds for cybersecurity The objectives of the Pnrr that Italy must achieve by the end of the year There are 55 goals to be achieved by December 31st to release the third installment of funds recovery and resilience plan, after the 96 already achieved previously

Research on cybersecurity

The foundation for cybersecurity takes home 116.36 million euros. With these it will support the 27 research projects already enrolled, entrusted to universities and institutions throughout the Belpaese. At the helm is the University of Salerno. Its rector, Vincenzo Loia, is also president of the board of directors of the Serics foundation, appointed at the end of November. The other four seats went to Paolo Prinetto, head of the cybersecurity laboratory of the national inter-university consortium of computer science (Cini), representing the universities; Rocco Denicola, director of the IMT High School of Lucca, for the other research institutions; Marco Conti for the National Research Council (Cnr) and Gennaro Faella, manager of the national defense champion, Leonardo, as spokesman for the private sector.

The one in cybersecurity is the only alliance project submitted to attention of the ministry, which last August 3 put the names of the winners on paper, chosen by a committee of international auditors. Among these is that of the Serics foundation, established at the end of September. From 1 January 2023 the works will get underway.

“ It is a need of the country, to strengthen itself in the face of the increase in attacks ”, explains Loia. Just in the last few hours, the Computer security incident response team (Csirt) of the National Cybersecurity Agency (Acn) issued a note in which it highlights "an increase in distributed denial of service (Ddos) attacks [to be clear, an overload of requests to knock out a system, ed] by hacktivist groups - according to open sources, of Russian origin - to the detriment of national institutional subjects. However, it does not appear that the attacks - apparently of a "demonstrative" nature at present - have affected the integrity and confidentiality of the information and systems involved".

Study programmes

“ We have created thematic and non-territorial programs, which deal with ethical, social, hardware and cryptography aspects, among other things ”, says Prinetto. Ten areas of research, called spokes in the MUR lexicon: rules, rights and training in the field of cybersecurity; fight against fake news; attack analysis and prevention tools, from early warning systems to new functions to expose vulnerabilities; operating system security; studies in the field of cryptography; secure software; infrastructure protection; risk management; privacy protection; digital transformation. “ We have identified 27 projects belonging to the 10 spokes - explains Loia - which will have to redistribute the funds".

Of the 116 million available (of which 48 to be invested in the South), 91.3 will go to basic research and 9.4 to industry, while 2.4 million will be used for development, 11.2 for aid to innovation poles and 1.8 for training. Eleven universities are part of the foundation (from Ca' Foscari to Cagliari ), seven research centres, including the Sant'Anna High School of Pisa and the Bruno Kessler Foundation, and six companies: in addition to Leonardo, Eni, Fincantieri, Intesa Sanpaolo, Deloitte and Telsy, Tim's arm that deals with cybersecurity. "We have the opportunity to create a critical mass on these issues - says Loia -. We have brought together 350 experts and we aim to double and we need to hire 130 researchers", of which 40% in the South. Another strong bond is a 40% of female researchers involved in the projects.

Europe wants to become a power nce of supercomputers Leonardo, the fourth most powerful supercomputer in the world, is inaugurated in Bologna. And in 2024, with the Jupiter project, the goal is to overtake the United States and Japan

A matter of bureaucracy

But why the choice of the foundation for cybersecurity? " It was the ministry that imposed this mechanism and asked that they be new entities", explains Prinetto. of Tor Vergata, head of the Restart telecommunications project -, but to copy the structure of European projects, in which the money is entrusted to the coordinator who then distributes it among the participants. Here the ministry has requested new legal entities ". On the one hand there are the spokes, in variable numbers depending on the partnership, who collect the funding and distribute it among the participants, while the hub performs coordination functions.

Result? To access Pnrr funds, universities had to open a foundation. “ In this way we lost at least 4-5 months ”, complains Blefari Melazzi, who nevertheless recognizes that it could hardly have been done in any other way: “ Arriving 6 billion all together and in an unplanned way for sufficient time, the Mur could hardly manage the impact, moreover without additional personnel; hence the need for this mode ”. At his Restart, who will take care of the future of 5G, radars, sensors, the internet of things, I've been working since August. “We had to create a board of directors, open a current account and now we are waiting for a go-ahead from the prefecture,” he says. The goal is to start the engines in January 2023.

It is a complex system, if we add to the fact that universities and research institutions are part of various alliances. The Cnit, for example, is also in Serics. Or just think that the University of Catania alone, as he writes on his website, is part of eight of the 14 partnerships: from quantum science to Fair, the program on artificial intelligence, and from environmental sustainability to telecommunications. Thus Bologna, which is at the helm of the Grins project (on the economic and financial sustainability of the territories), is also inside Nest, on green energy, led by the Bari Polytechnic.

“ Collaboration between partnerships is fundamental - says Blefari Melazzi -. Those on artificial intelligence and quantum computing are linked to Restart, just as we are interested in working with the one on medicine. Now we have the ball, we have to commit ourselves to doing a good job ”. For Loia, “ faced with such complex systems it was not easy for the ministry to find a solution. Our hope is that the administrative aspect is linked to a fluidity of funds ”.

Funds for cybersecurity

In the latest draft of the maneuver, the government has included two new funds for the national cybersecurity strategy. The first covers investments aimed at technological autonomy and raising IT security levels, with a redistribution that provides for 70 million in 2023, 90 in 2024, 110 for 2025 and 150 from 2025 to 2037. The second fund finances cybersecurity management and puts 10 million into the system in 2023, 50 in 2024 and 70 from 2025.

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