Speaker at a CPI conference in front of a projection titled AI for Healthcare.

Harnessing Waterloo’s formidable research strengths in areas as diverse as quantum computing and communications, data science, cryptography, AI, policy and legal, and social impacts

With cybercrime rising at a rate of 15% a year and costing businesses a staggering US $10.5 trillion annually, more and more corporations are turning to the University of Waterloo’s Cybersecurity and Privacy Institute (CPI) to help safeguard their infrastructure and data.

CPI brings together more than 60 researchers from 16 departments and schools across all faculties in a unique interdisciplinary approach to security and privacy.

Ranked number one in Canada—and in the top 10 in the world—CPI is “uniquely positioned to devise cutting-edge cybersecurity and privacy tools and technologies—and to commercialize them through academic-industry collaborations,” says Colin Russell, CPI’s managing director.

Tasked with facilitating the development of solutions to current—and future—cybersecurity and privacy issues, CPI harnesses Waterloo’s formidable research strengths in areas as diverse as quantum computing and communications, data science, cryptography, AI, policy and legal and social impacts.

Two experts working on a Quantum Key Distribution receiver, a telescope-sized device mounted on a low platform.
This Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) receiver is used to securely transport cryptographic keys between distant locations. These cannot be tapped, copied or directly measured without detection.

CPI also fosters collaboration in various ways, including hosting conferences. In May 2023, CPI brought together experts from a wide range of fields to explore the hot-button topic of how to use the latest information technology to improve health care—while keeping patient data safe in a world where cyberattacks are escalating.

Innovation a drawing card for the world’s best and brightest minds

CPI was created in 2018, but its roots go back to the early 1960s when a young University of Waterloo successfully recruited a global mathematics star. Dr. William Tutte was a Cambridge-educated mathematician and codebreaker. Tutte’s contribution to winning the Second World War—he was responsible for breaking the complex German Lorenz code used to transmit highly sensitive strategic information—was not publicly acknowledged until the late 1990s, but his leading work in the field of combinatorics (the mathematics of counting and arranging) was world-renowned and helped to propel the university onto the world stage.

“Because he was so well known, he became a magnet that attracted other professors, graduate students and researchers from all over the world in areas that include mathematics, computer science and engineering,” says Russell. “It continues to this day with the result that the university has had a long history of success in cybersecurity, particularly in the area of cryptography.”

For example, CPI computer scientist Dr. Florian Kerschbaum, in partnership with the Royal Bank of Canada and Microsoft, designed a ground-breaking multiparty data-sharing platform. Known as Virtual Clean Room (VCR), the platform allows RBC Royal Bank to provide clients with real-time, personalized offers while protecting their data confidentiality and security.

Dr. Michele Mosca is working on a small device on a tabletop that is connected by wires and has a shining red light.
Though still in their early stages, quantum computers have the potential to break many of today’s conventional encryption methods. Through CPI, Waterloo scientists like Dr. Michele Mosca are developing new tools to withstand attacks even by large-scale quantum computers.

The university’s unique entrepreneurial ecosystem has also been a major factor in attracting—and retaining—great minds. “Our Velocity incubator is the most productive in Canada and one of the most productive in the world,” says Russell. “It supports entrepreneurially-curious students and researchers through all stages across all industries.”

The numbers speak for themselves: in just 14 years, Velocity has incubated over 400 companies, with 8 out of 10 company founders still supporting the incubator through funding and expertise.

Forward-thinking intellectual property policies

The university—and CPI—also distinguishes itself in its approach to intellectual property (IP). It is very clear: any research that goes on to be patented is owned by the creators. Not the university. The policy itself is very flexible: depending on their involvement, corporations can co-own the IP developed in collaboration with university researchers, license it or assign it.

“That kind of flexibility really promotes collaboration and accelerates discovery and commercialization,” says Russell.

Spearheading a pan-Canadian cybersecurity consortium

In addition to its work at the University of Waterloo, CPI is lending its know-how to spearhead an initiative to strengthen Canada’s cybersecurity ecosystem. In March 2022, the federal government launched a new Cyber Security Innovation Network (CSIN), led by the National Cybersecurity Consortiums (NCC), which consists of centres of expertise in cybersecurity at five universities, including the University of Waterloo’s CPI.

With Ontario at the heart of Canada’s tech ecosystem—and Waterloo’s reputation as one of North America’s most dynamic IT hubs—it’s no wonder CPI is taking a leading role in the fight against cybercrimes.

“The goal is to continue to advance Canada’s leadership in cybersecurity while defending against ever-changing threats. It’s crucial to ensuring our long-term prosperity.”

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