Electronics engineer Professor Maire O’Neill (née McLoone) from Glenties is leading a major project to make the internet safer for users.
Prof O’Neill has been appointed director of a £5m research unit at Queen’s University Centre for Secure Information Technologies. The centre is based at the Northern Ireland Science Park in the city’s Titanic Quarter.
A report in the Irish Times tells how Prof O’Neill explains that something as simple as a child’s talking doll can be hacked. It could then record and issue commands that a family would use for smart home devices. This means that the hacked toy could therefore be used to open a remote controlled front door.
With many such devices now networked, hackers could gain access to personal information and even download malicious software.
The risk from hackers is therefore far greater than ever before. And this is what Prof O’Neill will tackle in the new research unit. The Belfast centre is one of four linked cyber security units in the UK. The others are in Cambridge, Bristol and Birmingham.
Prof O’Neill will develop ways to make devices less vulnerable to cyber attacks. Indeed, her ultimate aim is to make them impenetrable from the outset.
In a world where millions of devices that range from low cost gadgets to high end household devices are being manufactured every day, finding a way to implement that level of security is highly ambitious.
But that is unlikely to faze the Glenties woman. Now aged 40, the Irish Times reports that she was just 32 when appointed the youngest ever engineering professor at Queen’s. She is a winner of the British Female Inventor of the Year for work on high-speed data security. And the people of Glenties will know that this mix of creativity and engineering is in her genes. Her late father, John McLoone famously built his own hydro-electric generator on the Owenea River, thus providing the electricity needs of the household.
Prof O’Neill is looking forward to the challenge of her new role. And it seems that the future of cyber security is now in good hands.
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