Cyber centre set to reduce digital harm

[2020] A team of Edinburgh scientists led by Dr Tariq Elahi will play a key role in a new cyber security centre that will help keep citizens safe online.

The £8.6 million national Research Centre on Privacy, Harm Reduction and Adversarial Influence Online (REPHRAIN) will explore the online harms that diverse groups can be exposed to, the effectiveness of privacy and online safety measures and how to balance the risks with improving participation in a growing digital economy.

Sector growth

The digital sector is worth £400 million a day to the UK economy and is growing six times faster than all other sectors combined, according to latest figures.

However, while a data-driven economy has many benefits, serious challenges such as privacy violations, micro-targeting of individuals, online abuse, fraud and disinformation have emerged.

Led by the University of Bristol, the centre will bring together experts from the Universities of Edinburgh and Bath, King’s College London and UCL. The group will work with partners in industry, policy and the third sector to develop measures to boost peoples’ privacy and online safety.

World first

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Informatics and Edinburgh College of Art will develop a Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PETs) Testbed and a Citizens Advice Bureau. These platforms, the first of their kind in the world, will assess the effectiveness and usability of technical measures to ensure privacy and online harm reduction.

I am thrilled to co-lead one of REPHRAIN’s three missions. Working with our industrial and academic partners, our research will address the tensions between designing and deploying PETs at scale and mitigating their potential to inflict harm towards individuals and society at large. Our multi-disciplinary team will use its expertise to produce shared tools and resources to populate the REPHRAIN toolbox- a shared knowledgebase on what works and what does not for online harms mitigation.

Dr Tariq Elahi
REPHRAIN co-investigator and Lecturer in Security and the Internet of Things , School of Informatics

Privacy solutions

Other REPHRAIN teams will develop a map to assist the public, policymakers and researchers when dealing with privacy and online harm issues. The guide will act as a blueprint for future certification of online products and services.

The urgency of new scientific advances to protect citizens from a variety of harms without stifling data-driven innovation is highlighted by the Covid-19 crisis. We have a pressing need for data-sharing to track and contain the pandemic, whilst preserving privacy and preventing spread of disinformation through global scale social networks. It’s a challenge that spans all areas of our lives and one that we are ready to tackle, by bringing together the greatest minds in the country, across a whole range of disciplines.

Professor Awais Rashid
Professor of Cyber Security, University of Bristol and Director of REPHRAIN

REPHRAIN is supported by £7 million of funding from UK Research and Innovation’s Strategic Priorities Fund.

Related links

Security, Privacy and Trust research group, School of Informatics    

Dr Tariq Elahi



University of Bristol