UK’s Most Innovative Cyber SME Helps Government Build a Drone Cyber Unit
Belfast-based Angoka was named UK’s Most Innovative Cyber SME during Infosecurity Europe 2023.
Shadi Razak, co-founder and CTO, shared his reaction to the prize with Infosecurity and explained the close collaboration with the UK government his company has been building for a few years.
Infosecurity Europe (IE): You have been awarded as the UK’s most innovative Cyber SME during this year’s Infosecurity Europe. How does it make you feel?
Shadi Razak (SR): This award means a lot! So much innovation is happening in the UK, mainly driven by SMEs, and such a distinction proves that the UK government recognises this.
It also shows that the government continues to support Angoka’s work by allowing us to exhibit at Infosecurity Europe and pitch at the Innovation Showcase. During my presentation at the show, I saw many audience members take notes and others came to talk to us. It’s giving us great visibility.
Angoka had enjoyed tremendous support from the government from the very beginning when the four co-founders came together to create a start-up in 2016 following a call from the UK government on securing smart mobility. We applied for a grant the same year and received around £250,000 to work on our first patent.
The start-up remained in stealth mode for three years to work on our intellectual property, and we officially launched it in 2019. Since then, we have continued participating in UK-funded programmes and have received between £3m and £4m in grants – on top of our £2.7m raised.
We’re also working closely with the UK National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which are building a new cyber unit focused on drone projects and recently drafted a new drone flight regulation.
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IE: What’s your solution and why is it innovative?
SR: Our mission is to secure machine-to-machine (M2M) communications in three main areas: smart land mobility, smart air mobility and critical national infrastructure (CNI).
In 2016, we started building an encryption solution with three principles in mind: first, we decided to start fresh and refused to use anything that was already implemented; second, we wanted to understand the cyber-physical needs and constraints of the systems we were securing, where safety is a top priority; and third, we chose to think five to 10 years ahead, both in terms of how the technologies and how the threats could evolve in the long term.
I don't see drones being used for your day-to-day logistics, like ordering something from Amazon – we'd be talking about a massive amount of drones flying in the sky!
Our solution allows drone or autonomous vehicle operators to generate multiple unique identities to prevent spoofing and offers an end-to-end encrypted communication system for these moving devices to interact with the infrastructure – an unmanned aircraft system traffic management (UTM) system or a road traffic management system, for instance.
It’s like having a multi-channel virtual private network (VPN), but on a lower level within the stack – and much more secure: a VPN will always allow you to trust anyone into a given pipeline, whereas our solution forces you to authenticate yourself every time you're sending something in the pipeline.
We're applying new concepts, new ideas to a new environment. It's better to approach it now that the smart mobility industry is young. Also, we're not just talking about cyber but trying to enhance the resilience of the systems we're securing.
IE: Are you already deploying it?
SR: Yes, we are. We are involved in several projects across the UK.
Three of them involve autonomous driving on land:
- We’re running the first autonomous shuttle bus service in the UK, in Belfast, with BT and Belfast Harbour, among other partners. The system connects the ferries to the bus stops and train stations.
- Another one, ServCity, has been led by Nissan and Hitachi in Sunderland since 2020. Its objective is to create a control network for teleoperating trucks from a factory’s loading bay, far from the buildings to the landing bay, inside the building.
- A third one, the Sunderland Advanced Mobility Shuttle (SAMS), is led by Sunderland City and aims to run autonomous shuttle buses within the city centre to connect train stations to the main hospitals to help elderly people and people in need quickly get to hospitals when they need to.
Five of them are focused on drone control, including the following three:
- Project Skyway, kicked off in 2022, aims to build Europe’s largest drone corridor – 170 miles from the north to the south of England. It involves eight partners, including BT and Altitude Angel, a UTM provider.
- Portal is a consortium with Slink tech, Radar tech, and Sensorys to build a mobile vertical system to allow the drones to land and take off vertically. This can be very useful for search & rescue missions or to find survivors and people in need.
- The third one, Alias, aims to build a mixed-used air corridor between the Isle of Jersey, the Isle of Guernsey and the mainland.
We hope that most of these projects will have a commercial outcome.
Our solution allows drone or autonomous vehicle operators to generate multiple unique identities to prevent spoofing and offers an end-to-end encrypted communication system for these moving devices to interact with the infrastructure
IE: How important is drone security to Angoka’s activity?
SR: Drone security is the core of our business today. As I said, it’s a very young industry, some use cases may not succeed, and some may grow massively.
I don't see drones being used for your day-to-day logistics, like ordering something from Amazon – we'd be talking about a massive amount of drones flying in the sky! However, I do see them increasingly used for critical services, such as medical delivery, search & rescue and remote monitoring of CNI locations – using infrared and computer vision.
For these use cases, we must ensure their use is reliable, secure and safe.
There have been many examples of drones being spoofed or hacked, and because these are physical, mobile devices, the consequences can be catastrophic.
This has been best shown by what's happening between Ukraine and Russia, where both countries have been using off-the-shelf commercial drones. We know for a fact that the cyber units of each country are conducting hostile takeovers of drones.
IE: What’s next in Angoka’s pipeline?
SR: We plan to launch a comprehensive report on the drone security threat landscape in September and, on the back of this one, another on the security threat landscape of the smart mobility industry.
We are also getting ready to host the second edition of Advanced Air Mobility: Future Challenges & Opportunities, Northern Ireland’s first drone summit.
We are looking at hiring more people to grow from 30 employees today to 50 by the end of this year.
This is because, overall, our number one priority right now is expansion: Angoka means ‘encryption’ in Japanese – and we’re now focused on expanding our activities in Asia, starting with Singapore and Japan.
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