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Annual Report

Leading the global fight against cybercrime

Ali Ghorbani

Rarely a day goes by where cybercrime isn’t making headlines. The global cost of cyberattacks, estimated at $400 billion last year, is predicted to exceed $2.1 trillion by 2020.

UNB, a leader in cybersecurity, is one of eight universities in North America chosen by IBM to help adapt its iconic Watson cognitive technology for use in the cybersecurity battle.

Computer science students at UNB, and the other partner universities, are helping Watson process and analyze massive amounts of cybersecurity data, including some 20 years of security research, details on eight million spam and phishing attacks and more than 100,000 documented vulnerabilities.

It’s no surprise that UNB was selected to play a role in this game-changing project. Our researchers have been leading the charge against cyberattacks for more than two decades.

In the beginning

In the late 1990s, Chris Newton, UNB student and computer service department employee, spent years designing software that visualized a computer network traffic monitoring potential internal and external threats coming into UNB. Fellow UNB students and computer service department staffers Sandy Bird and Dwight Spencer soon joined the project.

“This was right after the Internet boom and there were a lot of worms and viruses causing havoc on the university’s networks,” Mr. Bird recalls. “We built a technology to detect anomalies in network traffic.”

This led to the creation of QRadar, an intrusion detection technology, and the founding of Q1 Labs.

By 2011, their company had grown to 250 employees, had more than 1,800 clients and its revenues were soaring. Its success caught the attention of IBM, who, in the same year, purchased Q1 Labs. This sale still stands as one of Canada’s largest entrepreneurial success stories.

A centre of excellence

Around the time that Q1 Labs was launched, Ali Ghorbani (PhD’96), became an associate professor in the faculty of computer science.

Today, he is dean of computer science at UNB and Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity, as well as a leading international expert in network and information security, complex adaptive systems, and critical infrastructure protection.

Dr. Ghorbani is the founder of UNB’s Information Security Centre of Excellence, created to accelerate cybersecurity research at the university.

“It is one of the only focused research centres on network security, which makes us different from others who do other types of security,” he says. In the last six years, the security centre has generated more than $5 million in external funding and has trained over 30 highly specialized professionals. It is one of the largest network security R&D centres in Canada and it fosters a broad spectrum of education and industrial collaborations.

So, when the call came inviting UNB to partner on the Watson project, Dr. Ghorbani says he wasn’t entirely surprised.

“Of course, we know that we have what it takes to compete with the best in the world,” he says, “but this validates the many years of hard work and the calibre of cybersecurity researchers we have at UNB.”