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Securing the Internet of 'Nano-Things,' an exclusive with NanoMalaysia CEO Dr Rezal Khairi Ahmad

AvantiKumar | April 19, 2017
‘The digital era has removed the clear line that once separated State and Business as well as People. Everything and everyone is more inter-connected. We are now an ecosystem both by chance and design,’ NanoMalaysia’s Dr Rezal Khairi Ahmad tells Computerworld.

GraphicStock - emering tech

Credit: GraphicStock


  After being certified in 2011 as a nanocentre, national applied research agency MIMOS continued to make regular moves to boost Malaysia's nanotechnology ambitions. This included helping to develop the national graphene action plan (NGAP 2020).

It was during a MIMOS event in August 2015 to announce four nanotechnology agreements - one of them a partnership agreement with a government agency - NanoMalaysia - that I then started to see some of the steps taken in this field.

Much of the task of driving and commercialising the NGAP ecosystem is in the hands of NanoMalaysia, which was incorporated in 2011 as a company limited by guarantee (CLG) under Malaysia's Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) to act as a business entity.

During another event in March 2016 where I saw that 360 new products were to be commercialised under NGAP, NanoMalaysia's chief executive officer Dr. Rezal Khairi Ahmad said that benefits would include a US$5 billion impact on GNI (gross net income) and 9,000 related new jobs by the year 2020.

In his capacity as a keynote speaker at this year's Computerworld Security Summit in Kuala Lumpur (20 April 2017), Dr Rezal agreed to a security-themed interview on this relatively new industry sector.  This is also part of a series of special security features.

NanoMalaysia - Dr Rezal

Photo- Dr. Rezal Khairi Ahmad, Chief Executive Officer, NanoMalaysia Berhad.

 To start, I asked Dr Rezal for a brief run-through of his role.

  [RKA]  I'm the founding Chief Executive Officer and also Board Member of NanoMalaysia, Nano Commerce Sdn. Bhd, representing NanoMalaysia's business interests, the Chairman of NanoVerify Sdn. Bhd, a nanotechnology certification entity and a Director of Nanovation Ventures Sdn. Bhd., an investment arm of NanoMalaysia.

Prior to this, I served as Acting Under-Secretary of National Nanotechnology Directorate, Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation on the policy aspect of nanotechnology and vice president of [national investment body] Khazanah Nasional touching on human capital and investment research.

NanoMalaysia's primary role in the development of Malaysia's National Graphene Action Plan 2020 together with Agensi Inovasi Malaysia and PEMANDU [Performance Management & Delivery Unit attached to Prime Minister's Office] is a major landmark in our journey to ensure Malaysia stays competitive in the global innovation landscape particularly in nanotechnology, which cuts across all industries including ICT.

Can you talk about graphene and its significance to local industry?

Graphene is touted as one of the game-changing advanced materials made of one atom-thick carbon and acknowledged by World Economic Forum as no. 4 emerging technology in 2016.

[Graphene, which is a thin layer of pure carbon just one atom thick (bonded together in a hexagonal honeycomb lattice, and 200-300 times stronger than steel), will involve downstream graphene-based application development for specialty and consumer products ranging from tyre, automotive component, water pipe and ultra-capacitor.]

Beyond being a fancy nano material, graphene plays a central role in the development of endogenous hardware aspects of Malaysia's Internet of Things aspirations or the now evolved Internet of Nano-Things (IoNT). Some of these are:
-·Super small, lightweight and hyper-sensitive low-cost Graphene-based sensors and Radio Frequency ID (RFID)
- Higher speed, Low loss and power consumption graphene based optical transmitter and receiver for 5G systems
- Making IoNT a low-cost and practical industrial and domestic solutions in Malaysia.

Let's move to the security aspects of nanotechnology: what's your take on IoNT?

 In the context of IoNT, which WEF acknowledged to be the top emerging technology in 2016, the current work-in-progress,  'ubiquitous' deployment of sensors in Malaysia and worldwide, I certainly see increasing data security risks at the sensor, transmission, collection, processing and even analytics levels.

The initial industry approaches to IoNT data security will probably be polarised between cascaded and centralised system approaches.

I think some hacking attacks will obviously focus on data theft. I therefore foresee a trend favouring cascaded security - with both hardware, software and more advanced data encryption technologies in place.

What security steps do you currently advise?

The priority is to tackle potential data theft at every stage of IoNT systems.  The best-available preventive measures should include some versions of cascaded and embedded security in the form of hardware tags and advanced encryption.

How do you see overall cybersecurity preparedness today in Malaysia?

Policy makers and the general public are much more aware of cyber threats and security today.  I applaud the efforts spearheaded by CyberSecurity Malaysia here.

There are signs of a consolidation of efforts especially with cross-institutional and cross-border partnerships in combating threats in cyber space.

We need to be realistic: cyber threats will always be present. The "good guys" need to try and get a couple of steps ahead of threats.

What's your perception of the cyber security industry?

Current efforts to create awareness on cyber security is bearing some fruits - though more can always be done.

It's a never-ending drive due to the constant evolution of technologies and threats. Businesses and Governments are left with no choice but to collaborate. With the Digital Economy programme and Digital Free Trade Zone launched this year, Malaysia as a whole - with consolidated support from the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation and relevant agencies - is continually putting the correct measures in place to create a mitigated and sufficiently safe cyber environment for businesses and populace in the country.

Security adoption has been touted as a strategic business driver/enabler? What's your take on this?

My opinion is that data security adoption creates data safety assurance. This leads to increased client confidence of data communications, processing, analytics and commercial storage systems. It also facilitates rapid development of new hardware and software technological solutions and wider market acceptance of Internet of Nano-Things (IoNT).

To end, what's your main message for business and IT leaders?

The digital era has removed the clear line that once separated State and Business as well as People. Everything and everyone is more interconnected. We are now an ecosystem both by chance and design. Cyber-attacks can be made to afflict either one and be used to hold any one at ransom thus creating a local or even global systemic chain reaction effect.

The connected world presents endless commercial, social and environmental development opportunities...and threats. The development and deployment of emerging cyber-related technologies, in particular IoNT - which promises a market size of US$9.69 billion by 2020 - should be done responsibly in the form of infused data security technologies to ensure prolific market acceptance and profitable returns.

For our part, NanoMalaysia is working with various parties locally and abroad push Malaysia's strategic industry sectors to be relevant to the Fourth Industrial Revolution supported by cyber-physical systems manifesting into full automation, robots, artificial intelligence, de-centralised power generation, energy storage, water and food supplies, remote assets and logistics management and custom manufacturing requiring secured data sensing, traffic and analytics systems in place.


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