Rapid7 launches new AI security research partnership with Queen’s University Belfast

  • Photo: Rapid7, recently announced a new security research partnership with the CSIT at QUB

    Collaboration between cyber security industry and academia speeds cloud security innovations to market

    Rapid7, a leader in extended risk and threat detection, recently announced a new security research partnership with the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) at Queen’s University, Belfast.

    Kathryn McKenna spoke with Dr. Stuart Millar, Principal AI Engineer at Rapid7, to find out more about the new partnership, which will be with CSIT’s AI hub and will research threats facing the cloud by utilising AI and machine learning techniques.

    In welcome news for those interested in a career in the thriving tech sector in Northern Ireland, the innovative partnership poses another avenue for CSIT students into the cyber security industry and Rapid7.

    The recent announcement also comes at a critical time, as the partnership will utilise AI and advanced machine learning to detect risks and active threats within cloud environments. According to a recent report by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), cybercriminals possessing any level of sophistication will soon be able to leverage AI to significantly enhance their initial access capabilities. This includes access to cloud services, which are notoriously complex and therefore difficult to secure - leaving many organisations vulnerable to a potential data breach.

    Dr. Stuart Millar is keen to emphasise the partnership continues to build upon the existing strong relationship between the cybersecurity industry and academia in Belfast.

    Dr. Millar told Sync NI: “I am delighted with the announcement as there has been a lot of work put into this behind the scenes by a lot of people who have really contributed in terms of getting the partnership going.”

    Pictured: Dr. Stuart Millar, Principal AI Engineer at Rapid7

    Dr Millar adds: “This partnership has been on the cards for a while because we actually had a partnership, less officially, which goes back six years already.”

    Indeed, Dr. Millar has spent time at CSIT himself, studying a PHD in AI which was a collaboration between Rapid7 and CSIT in 2018. This groundbreaking research won awards in the States and in Belfast in 2022, when both Rapid7 and CSIT were jointly recognised for their findings which centred around applying AI to web application security.

    Dr. Millar’s involvement came about after one of the staff from CSIT gave a presentation at the Rapid7 office in Belfast about AI in cyber security six years ago. One of the Rapid7 team members thought they could make use of AI for a project they were working on at the time, and thought of Dr. Millar who was delighted to come on board. “I thought it was a meaningful idea, something to go after,” he explains.

    And Dr. Millar is delighted the collaboration has come ‘full circle’ after the model worked so well previously: “We are delighted to partner with Queen’s University officially.

    “Whenever you have the AI work that goes on in academia, you have a lot of access to the cutting edge approaches, methods and techniques but you don’t necessarily have the industry data to be able to experiment with.
    “Conversely, whenever you are in industry, you have tonnes of data. Rapid7 have troves of gold-standard cyber security data, but that access to the leading edge methods and how to find what you need in that data, usually resides in the university.

    “It is a question of how do you marry the two of them together, and that is exactly what we are doing here. Because of our previous success going back six years we were very excited when we were approached.”

    Rapid 7 famously welcome between 50 and 70 interns into the burgeoning company each year, which they have done for a “long time” explains Dr. Millar. However, this year marks the first time they are taking on two specialised AI interns. “I am particularly pleased, because it is all in the spirit of the knowledge partnership. It is a win-win.

    “There is a lot of hype around AI at the moment. However, we have been doing this under the radar since 2018 so this is not a sudden project for us. If the Cyber AI Hub wasn’t happening, we would still be engaging with CSIT, there is no question about that.”

    On the topic of Northern Ireland arguably becoming the flagship of UK cyber security, Dr. Millar agrees, adding: “There is brilliant history here specifically between academia and cyber. As mentioned, you get the best work when you've got the best data. Because then you get the best approaches.

    The Rapid7 and CSIT teams involved in the AI partnership. Pictured, back row: Zafeirios Papazachos - Research Fellow, QUB; Lewis Rennie - Project Manager, CSIT Cyber AI-Hub; Sean Irvine - Sr. Engineer, CSIT Cyber AI-Hub; Dr. Paul Miller, Cyber-AI Hub Director, CSIT; Cathal O’Neill - Director of Software Engineering, Rapid7; Jesus Martinez del Rincon - Sr. Lecturer, QUB. Front row: Stuart Millar - Principal AI Engineer, Rapid7; Judith Millar - Business Development Manager, CSIT; Damian Horner - VP of Software Engineering, Rapid7; and Romain Garnier - Sr. Engineer, CSIT Cyber AI-Hub. 

    “A lot about research is about novelty and doing things that haven’t been done before. The threshold is quite high in that you cannot copy something that has gone before. It has to be brand new. Cyber security, by the very nature of it, has so many unknowns as new things are emerging all the time, there is also a lot of brand new problems that haven’t been solved before. So it dovetails really nicely for Rapid7 and the university to collaborate on together.

    RELATED: Rapid7 strive to revolutionize working in the cybersecurity sector

    “In the 90s and noughties Northern Ireland was renowned for telecoms and networking engineering. When it comes to networks and data transfer and the engineering, it is going to be a natural trend to move towards cyber security of networks because you need that foundational and technical knowledge. It has gone from network and telecoms into the mobile boom, and now there is a demand for cyber security for both of those and we have a rich ecosystem of that knowledge.”
    Rapid7 currently applies AI-driven anomalous activity detection across multi-cloud and hybrid environments to more rapidly and accurately classify and prioritise threats, thereby enhancing security teams’ visibility and response times. Continuing AI research into cloud-based detections reinforces the company’s commitment to giving organisations command of their attack surface.

    To learn more about Rapid7 Research, visit:

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