Cyber security expert Stephen McCombie PhD appointed as new professor of applied sciences in MITS

Tuesday 06 July 2021

Through the new Maritime IT Security (MITS) professorship of applied sciences, the Australian McCombie will work with the Maritime Innovation Techniques and the Maritime Law professorships as well as the Serious Gaming professorship at NHL Stenden to develop and improve the digital security of ships as cyber physical systems. The amalgamation of knowledge regarding maritime technology and IT security in a single professorship creates a unique centre of expertise in the Netherlands that carries international relevance.

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IT security essential for international shipping

The focus on digital and IT security for shipping is in line with the Dutch Maritime Strategy for which ship security and port security are important cornerstones. With more than 90% of international trade being transported by sea, the shipping industry carries the majority of fuels, raw materials and goods for the world economy. Port systems and ships are increasingly connected to each other through a digital infrastructure and through internet, and as such, the possibilities for, potentially unmanned, autonomous ships are rising. However, this means the risk of ransomware and other cyberattacks is also on the increase.

Innovative and impactful research

Peter Mulder, director of the Academy of ICT & Creative Technologies, commented on the appointment: ‘We are really happy Stephen McCombie will be coming to NHL Stenden. He is an expert in the field of IT security with broad and extensive experience, and shares our aim to carry out innovative and impactful applied research'.

On this research McCombie says, ‘The digital security of shipping is a critical area of research to support free trade and the open navigation of the seas. We intend to better understand the threats presented by criminals and nation states in this critical area. The recent cyber attack on the Colonial Pipeline in the USA reminds us of the significant risks and potential impacts to critical infrastructure. Our research will identify potential vulnerabilities, exercise the potential threats and develop technical and operational counter measures.’

Karin Orsel, CEO of MF Shipping Group and President of the Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners says, ‘As maritime industry we welcome the strengthening of cyber security knowledge in the Netherlands. The appointment of Dr. McCombie's professorship in Maritime IT Security is a clear and sound signal by NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences to step up our Dutch position in the field of cyber security in maritime. Especially regarding the technological maritime developments and smart shipping processes, which cannot be separated from the cyber domain, there is a need to combine practical experience with scholarly expertise. We welcome Dr. McCombie to the Netherlands and reach out our hand to work together in order to learn from each other.’

Practice-oriented research in IT teaching

The appointment of the new professor of applied sciences in Maritime IT Security will strengthen the IT security component already present in IT teaching at NHL Stenden. The new professorship and the educational concept Design-based Education mean that the university of applied sciences makes it possible for students to carry out practice-oriented research using the latest insights and the highest quality knowledge so as to develop solutions to these very relevant but also very complex issues.

Collaborative venture

Stephen McCombie’s professorship will be part of the Future Design Centre in the Academy of ICT & Creative Technologies. In addition to working with the professorships in the Maritime Institute Willem Barentsz and with the Serious Gaming professorship, collaboration will also be sought with national and international governments, businesses and research institutes at maritime, technology and strategy levels.

About Stephen McCombie

Stephen McCombie, graduated in computer science and has over 25 years international experience in the field of IT security. His career has developed from an initiating role within the police force in New South Wales (Australia) as a specialist in investigating complex computer criminality, through to aviation and banking. In the field of maritime IT security, Stephen’s work includes collaborating on a cyber scenario of a maritime conflict in the South China Sea. He was most recently a Senior Lecturer in Cyber Security at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Stephen’s PhD thesis examined the impact of Eastern European cybercrime groups upon Australia, and he is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional, Certified Fraud Examiner and Information Systems Security Management Professional as well experienced in forming research groups.