Cyber security in New Zealand moves forward

  • Masao Sakauchi and Rick Ede
    Dr. Rick Ede from Unitec and Dr. Masao Sakauchi from NICT at the launch event

Cyber security in New Zealand is set to take a step forward with the launch of a new weapon in the anti-malware armoury.

A system designed to alert companies and organisations to a cyber hack as soon as it happens was launched this morning (March 25) by Auckland’s Unitec Institute of Technology and Japan’s National Institute of Information and Communications Technology (NICT).

The Red Alert system is the result of several years’ work by NICT scientists and engineers, supported through commissioned research projects, including by Unitec staff and students on computational intelligence for cyber security.

It is a New Zealand first and will be made available free for selected not-for-profit organisations this year, ahead of a wider release in 2016.

Designed to help protect any network that is connected and subscribed to it, Red Alert will issue an alert as soon as a hack takes place. It will detect intrusions, notify the victim and then provide a report which includes the type of attack, the part of the network infected and a list of experts who can help them resolve the issue.

According to the Mandiant’s 2013 MTrends report the number of days a cyber threat was present in a victims’ system before being detected was 299*, by which time significant harm can be caused.

Unitec head of computing Hossein Sarrafzadeh says the Red Alert will provide another layer of defence against cyber criminals, potentially saving money and protecting client data.

Dr Sarrafzadeh says today’s cyber attacks come from multiple sources, breaching boundary defences from inside and outside organisations, including zero-day exploits, drive-by download attacks, and malware spreading via USB memory sticks and mail attachments.

“The red alert system is designed to be the last line of defence – after the virus scanner and firewall,” he says.

“Cyber threats are changing and developing all the time, and we all know how important it is to be protected against hackers. This system will give companies greater ability to protect their data, and their clients’ data.

“Leveraged together with conventional boundary defence systems, this system is expected to realise improved network security and reduce staffing requirements within organisations.”

The system has been welcomed by both the New Zealand cyber security and IT industry and Government.

Andy Prow, of Aura Information Security, says it is prudent for every organisation to consider a last line of defence.

“Red Alert is just that. The industry has known for ages and the anti-virus vendors themselves agree that a lot of malware will bypass the perimeter undetected.

“On one hand you'd say that Red Alert is too late as the malware is inside, but it is lot better than not knowing and letting it turn from an intrusion into a significant long-term data and system breach. As the name describes Red Alert will be one system you cannot ignore when the alarm goes off. From a malware and intrusion perspective it means you're on fire.”

Paul Ash, Director of the National Cyber Policy Office, acknowledged the contribution that Unitec is making to cyber security in New Zealand. 

“It is good to see Unitec taking the initiative to develop technical innovations, such as the Red Alert system, to help defend networks,” he says. 

“The private sector and academic institutions play an important role in advancing cyber security.

“Unitec is part of the Connect Smart public–private partnership working together to improve New Zealand’s cyber security.  More information and advice about protecting yourself online can be found at”

The launch also marks the continuation of the relationship between Unitec and NICT, which began in 2012 with the establishment of the Cyber-Security Research Centre at Unitec’s Mt Albert campus and has been extended until 2020.


About Unitec Institute of Technology

Unitec Institute of Technology is the largest institute of technology in New Zealand with 21,000 students studying over 150 programmes across three campuses in Auckland. We are focused on employability and we educate people for work, in work and through work with a comprehensive portfolio of programmes extending from certificates and diplomas through to degrees and doctorates, across a wide range of professional and vocational areas.

About NICT

NICT is Japan’s sole public organisation specialising in Information and Communications Technology. It plays a central role in coordinating the collaboration between industry, academia and government in the field. NICT carries out research and development (R&D), supports industries and academia in their R&D efforts, and promotes ICT businesses. NICT’s annual budget for the 2014 financial year is approximately 29.38 billion Yen (about 200 Million Euros). As at November 2014, NICT has 984 employees, of which 56% are researchers. Among the 555 researchers, about 83% of them hold PhD degrees. NICT has one IEEE Life Fellow, two IEEE Fellows, and many senior members associated with IEEE.
Go here for more information on NICT.