A team at the University of Huddersfield is collaborating with a local firm on a three-year project which will enable companies to conduct their own “cyber readiness” checks for the first time using their new innovative software tool.

Professor of Cyber Security, Simon Parkinson is working with Digital Transit Limited and a company in Singapore on the Innovate UK project with the goal of improving cyber security within operational technology.

Digital Transit Limited (DTL), under the direction of Dr Howard Parkinson and Dan Basher, aims to develop much needed disruptive cyber security auditing solutions to the rail industry.

Together the group will focus on the railway sector utilising the university’s Institute of Railway Research (IRR) to create an interactive software tool which will reflect best practice from IT cyber security while being tailored to the requirements of operational technology.

It will seek to guide a company through rules, regulations, and best practice, as well as providing feedback on compliance with industry standards and a framework for implementing a secure system after analysing the risks.

Ultimately it is intended that the software assistant could be used by any number of industries to safeguard their operational technology from potential attack.

Prof Parkinson explained how there is a growing need for cyber security processes to protect systems that rely on operational technology, such as key infrastructure, including transportation and power generation.

He added: “The solution will enable a company to input their software and system designs, and it will automatically identify where standards and best practices are not being applied correctly, before suggesting appropriate corrective action.

“Effectively it will be a system which can do the job of a human expert, and do it automatically, reviewing the designs of the software and suggesting any improvements required.

“What’s more it will also be able to quickly reflect any updates in those standards and practices.”

He added that to do this they would need to make use of some of latest advancements in AI technology around language models.

The project is set to build on technologies already possessed by Digital Transit Limited and its partners, bringing an innovative approach to preventing OT breaches, which can have direct safety and environmental impacts.

Dr Parkinson, director of DTL, based at the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre alongside the university, who is also a visiting research fellow at the IRR, said: “As a global specialist in system safety and safety critical software assessment, the firm has recognised that the requirements for implementing OT cyber security are proving onerous and impenetrable for many companies who do not currently have the capabilities to understand or execute OT cybersecurity management systems.

“Further, these companies can be so afraid of the process that they don’t even know where to start. Thus, there is an urgent and compelling requirement for a system or process that will allow these companies to take the steps they need to secure their OT systems.”

The three-year project is funded via a £456,000 grant, with the university receiving almost £100,000 of this. The project side of the collaboration will be organised by Singapore-based Heron Technology.

Innovate UK is the country’s national innovation agency, which supports business-led innovation in all sectors and technologies, helping businesses grow through the development and commercialisation of new products, processes and services.