Driving Swiss cyber-defence at EPFL

© 2023 CYD Campus

© 2023 CYD Campus

Switzerland’s Cyber-Defence Campus, based at EPFL’s Innovation Park, links government, academia and industry in research, development and training for cyber-defence.

In our increasingly digital and complex world we face the rising threat of cyber-attacks and as a result, the Swiss government has declared cyber security a national security concern. In 2019 it established the Cyber-Defence Campus (CYD Campus) in order to anticipate cyber developments more quickly.

With a hub at EPFL’s Innovation Park, it works closely with the innovation ecosystem in the region, including EPFL Labs, the Center for Digital Trust (C4DT) and Trust Valley as well as startups and established industry. The hub has two key tasks, which include innovation in cyber-technologies and the early identification of cyber-trends and research.

Innovation is key when it comes to cyber-technologies

That’s one of the reasons why the CYD Campus is a member of the Center for Digital Trust (C4DT), an interdisciplinary initiative at EPFL. Collaborating with C4DT has enabled the Cyber-Defence Campus to work on a wide range of projects in a collaborative way, some of which have now gone beyond the lab.

One of them, focusing on homomorphic encryption in combination with multi-party computation, has originated from the EPFL laboratory of Professor Jean-Pierre Hubaux, who is among the most cited researchers in privacy protection and information security.

This CYD Campus-C4DT joint project on this promising technology has now been spun off into a start-up called Tune Insight. It orchestrates secure collaborations on sensitive or confidential data across companies, domains or jurisdictions, enabling collective analytics, federated machine learning or other approved computations while protecting data in-use and streaming compliance.

The creation of the startup is an interesting outcome as the support of EPFL and ourselves motivated the founders to decide to go for it because through our project they saw that there was a clear need with a market potential in the technology. It wasn’t just us but all of the C4DT partners and I’m proud that we were able to play a role in this EPFL spinoff.”

Vincent Lenders, Director of the CYD Campus

The importance of early identification of cyber-trends and research

Some of the most innovative and creative ideas in cyber come from startups, which often have fresh or unique perspectives on existing challenges or trends. Hence, working with startups is also an important focus for the CYD Campus.

Having this in mind, the CYD Campus launched two key initiatives that push the boundaries when it comes to cyber-trends and innovation: the Cyber Startup Challenge and its partnership with Tech4Trust.

The Cyber Startup Challenge, now in its fourth edition, puts out a call for proposals and then selects the best startup for a CHF100,000 grant to implement a proof of concept within a year.

The aim of the 2023 call was to explore the startup technology landscape around the topic of ‘smartphone security’ to present innovative technologies to the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport. Companies were invited to register for the challenge and submit their solutions. The three most promising ones were then allowed to present their ideas at the Cyber-Defence Campus Conference which took place on 26 October in Bern.

This 2023 Challenge fits under the broader Conference theme of security in the age of Artificial Intelligence: opportunities and risks. It covered key topics such as security and anti-fraud tools in the age of AI, the importance of data protection, the potential of quantum machine-learning and why explainability is a key component in the effective use of AI within cyber intelligence as well as the opportunities and risks of large language models.

The winner of this 2023 edition, the company Ostorlab, proved to be very impressive with its application scanner, which performs security analyses for mobile applications. In 2024, the company will be able to implement its solution in a feasibility study tailor-made for the Armed Forces and thus demonstrate it in a real environment.

Tech4Trust is another acceleration program for promising startups in the fields of trust and cybersecurity, offering mentoring, strategic support and training from leading industry partners to help businesses be ‘ready for market’.

Finally, for established companies, the Cyber-Defence Campus runs a Public Private Partnership program where both the company and CYD Campus commit equal resources toward a shared goal. This cooperative effort enables partners to exchange knowledge, data, office facilities, and access to laboratory infrastructure, facilitating the acceleration of their respective projects.

The right government-academia-industry balance

Most developed countries now have some kind of cyber campus to keep their finger on the cyber-attack pulse. Some countries, such as France, have more of an industry focus and others, like Germany are more academically positioned.

Vincent Lenders believes Switzerland has hit the sweet spot, with the right balance between government, academia and industry involvement.

“I think what we’ve managed to do quite well in Switzerland is to combine and bring these three domains together in what hasn’t ended up as more of the same. Our unique approach, to work with, and leverage, different partners has proved to be of great value for Switzerland as a whole. We’re proud that other countries, such as Sweden, for example, which is currently building its national cyber campus, took strong inspiration from the CYD Campus in developing its concept.

Vincent Lenders, Director of the CYD Campus

“The cyber domain is complex, moving incredibly rapidly and will only continue to grow. This sometimes makes us feel like a startup ourselves and means we have to work in very nimble way. It also makes our work exciting and challenging, knowing that we are making a real difference for the security of Switzerland,” he concluded.

Find out more information about the Cyber-Defence Campus and its latest news here: https://www.cydcampus.admin.ch/en