Increasing online attacks on financial institutions, including banks, is the main reason the Royal Bank of Canada is funding a new cybersecurity lab and research at the University of Waterloo.

RBC is investing $1.78 million to develop advanced cybersecurity and privacy tools in the face of malicious attacks and botnets that target clients' personal data.

RBC staff will work on-site with researchers at the university for a close, longer-term collaboration.

The researchers on the projects are "established" and continuing their work, said Mark Giesbrecht, director at the School of Computer Science at the university, but the difference is their partner is of a much larger scale and profile.

"One of the things we find with research, especially in this domain, is that we need partners who have the kind of data and experience the real world trials and tribulations of being online, providing services and at the same time, protecting extremely important and valuable data," Giesbrecht told CBC News.

Security research underway

David Fairman, chief information security officer for RBC, said in a news release the partnership with UW will help his bank deal with "increasingly sophisticated cyber attacks."

The lab will be run out of UW's William G. Davis Computer Research Centre and results will be shared with all interested financial institutions — not just the Royal Bank.  

The money will fund:

  • A project that detects and mitigates security threats using machine learning and artificial intelligence.
  • A project that focuses on safety and security of consumer metadata, including identity and location.
  • A project that looks at pure mathematics and computer science that produce a data encryption "so strong that quantum computers cannot crack it."
  • CrytpoWorks21, an education program focused on post-quantum cryptosystems.

The funding is spread over three years. Giesbrecht said the projects may attract new investors like RBC in the future.

"I think they're definitely mutually beneficial," he said.