Digital fingerprint award funding to Napier Unviersity

Friday 7th November 2008
Anyone working with a computer leaves digital 'fingerprints'

Napier University computer experts at have secured funding of £199,879 to help in the pre- commercialisation of a unique digital fingerprinting and analysis technology to help companies and other organisations crack down on computer fraud. The patent-pending technology, codenamed ‘digital DNA’, is based on a new collecting and analysing technique that identifies sequences in user access of data, leaving behind a 'digital fingerprint' that will help in later digital forensic investigations.

Jamie Graves, a research fellow at Napier’s School of Computing, explored the concept of digital DNA throughout his PhD. Now, with his PhD supervisor Professor Bill Buchanan, (right) who acted as principal investigator on the funding bid while the pair were working in the Centre for Distributed Computing and Security - he has secured the two-years funding under the Scottish Enterprise Proof of Concept programme to develop the project through to commercialisation.

“What we have is effectively a timeline of user access to data,” says Graves. “Within that, we can essentially search for sequences that relate to the activity of users in accessing the data and any changes made to it.”

The digital DNA uses a particular forensic metric that offers a far higher degree of proof probability that a certain person was behind any changes made to data. Criminal gangs and unscrupulous insiders are increasingly aware of the potential rewards of data theft and other computer crimes. But court prosecutors are seeking higher levels of proof when it comes to prosecuting data crime, particularly in areas such as auditing and compliance activity.

“A weakness of the current system is that it’s computer experts giving evidence on the basis that they believe a particular person accessed or changed data,” explains Graves. “What the digital DNA will do is give a much greater measure of confidence to such actions. I can see it being very big in areas such as compliance and auditing, where organisations have to show proof of their controls over sensitive data and access to it.”

Graves believes that as part of a wider holistic approach, the digital DNA could help play a big part in reducing overall data crime. “We’ve demonstrated its effectiveness in the lab and the Proof of Concept funding will allow me to prove that effectiveness in the real world,” he said.

Overall, Napier secured three of nine Proof of Concept awards in the latest  funding round from Scottish Enterprise. It is also the only one of Scotland’s modern universities to receive funding, amounting to a total of £665,399 and it has a further four submissions being prepared for the forthcoming round.

The Proof of Concept programme helps Scotland's university researchers, NHS Boards and research institutes, to take ideas and inventions from laboratory and put them in window of the commercial markets worldwide. Successful applicants must demonstrate that their original ideas have true commercial potential.  Awards are granted across a variety of industries to  projects which are felt show the greatest potential for the type of licensing or creation of value added spin-out companies that will ultimately help grow Scotland’s economy and create world-leading Scottish companies.

Eleanor Taylor, head of the Proof of Concept Programme, firmly believed that Napier’s digital fingerprinting technology had the potential for commercial success in the near future. “Businesses help to grow our economy. We need Scotland’s universities, research institutes and businesses to embrace innovation as the foundation for competitive advantage,” she said.

Don Smith, technical director at Edinburgh-based DNS - a leading information security company - and widely-respected in managed information protection - says Napier’s DNA fingerprint is a novel and helpful approach to cutting through the existing layers of computer security monitoring.

“Understanding user activity is vital in the current regulatory climate. In the event of a security incident or audit, organisations have to be able to provide a straightforward mechanism for both the capture of evidence and preservation of evidential integrity" he said.

“Napier’s DNA fingerprint technology is certainly promising in terms of innovation and looks to have the capability of providing precisely that evidential proof of change or intrusion. It is a completely new perspective on tracking activity and I am sure the industry will take a very close look at it. “

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