Mar 12 2020

Professor Chris Mitchell, Department of Information Security, is currently researching the security of 5G mobile telecommunications, and has been invited to Brussels to discuss his research futher. We recently caught up with Chris to ask about this research, and to see if he could help explain the difference between 3G, 4G and 5G networks. 

1. Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your role within the Department of Information Security?

I gained my BSc (1975) and PhD (1979) in Mathematics from Westfield College, University of London. I have been a professor at Royal Holloway since March 1990, and was Head of the Computer Science Department from 1990-95; previously I worked for Hewlett Packard Research Laboratories in Bristol (1985-90) and Racal Comsec in Salisbury (1979-85). In 1990 I co-founded the Information Security Group (ISG) with Professor Fred Piper, who had been my PhD supervisor, and we launched the world-leading MSc in Information Security in 1992. Of course, later on the ISG became a fully-fledged academic department, which has continued to work closely with its parent departments – Computer Science and Mathematics. During the last 30 years I have taught a wide range of courses within the Information Security MSc, participated in a number of large European collaborative research projects, and supervised nearly 40 PhD students. I have also been heavily involved in international security standardisation, receiving the IEC 1906 award as recognition of my efforts. Last year I was delighted to be the first recipient of the RHUL Students Union You’re Valued Award.

2. You are currently researching the security of 5G telecommunications, and have been invited to Brussels to discuss this, could you tell us a bit about your research?

I have worked on cryptography and information security research for over 40 years, initially in industry and then for almost exactly 30 years at Royal Holloway. I first got involved in looking at security for mobile communications in a series of collaborative research projects starting in the mid-1990s, when we studied ways of enhancing the security of the then-current GSM (or 2G) system. Security and privacy of mobile systems remains an active area of research interest; more generally I am interested in web security and privacy, as well as improving the security of user authentication.

3. Can you help people to undertsand the difference between 3G, 4G, and 5G, and how a shift to 5G will impact them?

Each generation of mobile telecommunications has brought improved services. In particular, 5G offers higher data rates, faster handovers between networks, as well as reduced latency (i.e. the delay between data transmission and receipt). My particular interest is in the security and privacy features of the network, and the security system for each generation has represented an evolution of the previous generation, going all the way back to GSM. Over the last couple of years 5G security has become a matter of wider concern, given the expectation that 5G, through its enhanced services, will become a vital tool in a range of new and vitally important areas, including manufacturing automation and autonomous vehicles.

4. What do you enjoy most about working at Royal Holloway, and in particular the Department of Information Security?

A big part of the pleasure for me is working within a department which I played a significant part in founding. The ISG has always provided a friendly and informal environment, without (as far as I am aware) any of the major rivalries and infighting that sometimes cause problems in academic life. We do our best to develop a close relationship with our students, who often become good friends. Indeed, the positive feelings towards us amongst our alumni has always been hugely beneficial to the department.

5. What do you like to do when you are not working?

My guilty secret is that my wife and I have a second home – a small flat in Exmouth, where we try to go as often as we can to enjoy the coastal walking and the wonderful birdlife on the Exe; it is particularly splendid in winter with migrant geese and waders from the arctic. Our other major pleasure is in our five grandsons, who are growing up far too fast – the eldest two (twins) are about to take their GCSEs.

6. What's your favourite term at Royal Holloway and why?

The summer term is my favourite, as the campus is so delightful in warm sunny weather.