Imperial College London

Professor Deeph Chana appointed Co-Director of Imperial’s security institute

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Professor Deeph Chana

Professor Deeph Chana appointed Co-Director of the ISST

We are delighted to announce that Professor Deeph Chana has been appointed Co-Director of the Institute for Security Science and Technology.

Deeph was formerly the Deputy Director of the ISST and is also a Professor in Imperial Business School.

Prior to joining Imperial College London, Deeph worked for the UK government as a prominent security and defence official in Whitehall.

During this period of his career, Deeph ran a civil-service team that delivered the Department for Transport’s (DfT) security and resilience research and evidence programme, and directed key aspects of the UK’s cross-Whitehall counter terrorism activity as a CONTEST chair in the Home Office.

Deeph is also heavily involved with innovation and tech transfer and has generated a significant amount of technology IP in the private sector and has advised numerous multinationals.

At Imperial, Deeph has been applying his understanding of government and industry to developments in the White City campus, leading the MoU with the UK MOD’s Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), establishing its links to academics, investors and industrial partners such as SAAB, Northrup Grumman, Smiths Group, Rolls Royce and Airbus.

Max Swinscow-Hall caught up with Deeph to find out more about security and the ISST.

What exactly is ‘security’?

Being ‘secure’ might be described as an idealised mindset where you’re not burdened with concerns that the resources, liberties and opportunities necessary for daily life are under threat or at risk.

A state of security can be experienced by individuals, organisations, nation states and even by the planet as a whole, but the reality is that insecurity is the more normal state for people to be in. Whether we’re concerned with the protection of private data, the fragility of food supply chains, energy supply, the outbreak of war or the degradation of the world’s environment, a degree of insecurity tends to be the norm. It is research and development in fields ranging from cyber-security, advanced agriculture and renewable power generation that can drive us towards greater security.

Equally, though, it is true that innovation can drive things the other way and lead us to a less secure world and so there is always a careful balance to be struck.

It’s also important to consider what security means for people all over the world, as this differs according to local context. In the U.K. people’s primary concern might be centred on data security and defence issues, whilst in other countries more fundamental issues that we might take for granted, such as maintaining basic access to drinking water and energy, will be the priority.

As a subject, security considers these sorts of problems as risks that need to be reduced by innovation and insight.  Borrowing from terminologies used in business, it’s useful to think of security as a ‘horizontal’ activity, so that if, for example, basic societal functions such as healthcare, transport, finance and energy are all ‘verticals’, security is a consideration that is common across them.

What is the biggest challenge in security?

If you zoom out and look at the drivers of conflict and war – scenarios that are the antithesis of being secure -- you can, in many cases, distill the causes down to an inequality or lack of access to basics such as energy, food, water, healthcare, knowledge, and perhaps more generally, economic opportunity. There is a good correlation between access to high standards of living and security and stability.

The biggest challenge then is to deliver easy access to these resources and opportunities on local and global scales. This is one of the main challenges that individual nation states and supranational organisations like the E.U. and the U.N. grapple with, and can be considered a fundamental, basic objective of governments.

It also shows that there is both a moral and self-serving imperative to improve living standards and human rights globally. In order to build a truly secure world for ourselves, we need to ensure security for everyone, everywhere and that’s about as big a challenge as challenges get!

What are some of the more focused security issues?

You can break security issues down into short to medium-term problems, which might be on a timescale of months and several years, and the long-term concerns which play-out on a timescale of many years and decades.

The shorter-term issues are probably what come to mind when most people hear the word security, such as terror threats, cyber-attacks, or current wars and conflicts. The longer-term issues include topics like the global implications of technologies such as AI, and protection of our climate and the environment. Whilst these are considered less immediate, the implications of these developments are so significant, that the time to consider them and act is now.

Understanding how to prioritise effort between problems that are defined by these different time-scales is a societal problem that we’re collectively struggling with.

Who should deal with these issues and how does academia fit in?

As a society, we all have a stake in the challenges, and there isn’t a single set of people that entirely owns security problems. However, when it comes to finding solutions to tackle security challenges, the three main segments that really need to be engaged are government, industry and academia – something often referred to as the triple helix.

Academia is increasingly recognised as being an essential component of this and is in many ways uniquely placed to help tackle both the short and long-term challenges.

Government and industry are often very tied up with the immediate concerns. Academia can also provide much input here, be it through translating the latest technologies for airport security, or understanding the human behaviour aspect in cyber security for example, but academia is also able to spend time on the long term developments, horizon scanning, conducting research, and feeding into policy recommendations.

What is the ISST’s role?

For complex, global challenges like security, universities need a way to understand the problem landscape and the major stakeholders, and then identify the academic resources and pathways that can be applied to the problems.

These pathways include establishing research projects and programmes, aiding in the development of innovation ecosystems , as well as providing thought leadership and policy engagement. This is exactly what we do at the ISST.

What are some of ongoing activities at the ISST?

In terms of security themes, we have a programme of work that spans security issues in several areas, including physical protection, critical national infrastructure, financial systems and medical devices.

One of our major remits is in engaging the core stakeholders around security challenges and we have a very exciting programme of work ongoing at Imperial White City. Here we are developing an innovation cluster that is bringing in government and major industrial players to collocate with Imperial’s academic community, as well as start-ups and SMEs.

The idea with this is to facilitate rapid innovation by bringing together the triple helix of government, academia and industry to enhance the potential of start-ups which are driving agile innovation.

What else will you be focusing on over your tenure as Co-Director?

Education is a growth area for the ISST. We’re excited to welcome our first cohort on our MSc Security and Resilience course in October. We’ve had some very strong applications in the first year and look forward to growing this in coming years.

Improving the diversity and inclusivity of the ISST will also be a real focus for us. Security as an industry and STEM generally is not where it should be in terms of diversity and it is something we are working to improve. From a gender diversity perspective we recently welcomed two new female members to our Advisory Board and have been encouraged to see that roughly 50% of our MSc students are women.

However, diversity is a far broader issue than gender alone and the importance of improving on diversity in a more complete way is something that cannot be understated.

Reporter

Duncan Swinscow-Hall

Duncan Swinscow-Hall
Institute for Security Science & Technology

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