Partnering in the fight against disinformation


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A wide-ranging partnership between the University of Melbourne and leading cybersecurity firm Leidos is helping combat disinformation and develop high-technology solutions for the Asia-Pacific region’s most challenging problems.

“We have many active research, innovation and technical training programs within the company, but it is not possible to cover every specialist topic that we need,” says Leidos Director of Research and Emerging Technologies Glenn Frankish.

“So, having access to key experts at the University, and the ability to conduct ‘investigation and exploration’ with partners, is useful and rewarding for us. It helps us focus on the combined end effect of novel thinking, and advanced aspects of end-user delivery.”

One key issue that the partnership is looking to address is disinformation, or information warfare. The intentional creation and sharing of false or manipulated facts is a growing challenge affecting not just the Australian government, but many organisations and institutions.

A key part of the partnership has been the creation of a micro-certificate to train organisations in how to identify and address disinformation.

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Recognising and managing disinformation

While it is relatively straightforward to detect a cyber incident or data breach, addressing information warfare and disinformation is much more challenging, Frankish notes. “With [disinformation] being a very real and growing issue, upskilling in this area is important to us.”

To help develop its workforce, Leidos engaged experts from the University of Melbourne’s Hunt Laboratory for Intelligence Research to conduct professional development training on disinformation. The lab’s experts specialise in applying their research as a partner for Australian and international organisations.

The internal training was so successful that Leidos noted the course would be relevant to many other organisations. So, the University decided to formalise its offering as a micro-credential, available to anybody to study.

“Micro-credentials offer up to 40 hours of learning, or a quarter of a subject,” says Jane McAlear, a Senior Business Development Manager in the Melbourne School for Professional and Continuing Education, who specialises in STEM and defence.

“Especially if you’re working full-time, and you only need specialised learning, then micro-credentials are a good fit. They are also built as a pathway onto a subject which can then be part of a master’s degree. All our micro-credentials can be pathways to something else.”

The micro-credential takes a “validation approach”, McAlear explains, and it emphasises the importance of understanding the geopolitical context that influences discourse on social media. “It’s an interesting space, and it’s always evolving. The discourse is always changing, so you must evolve with it.”

Industry endorsement is crucial

As an endorsement partner on the micro-credential, Leidos assessed the curriculum that the University developed, ensuring it was industry relevant. The University now offers the course to the public, and can also teach it internally to organisations, using real-world case studies tailored to their business needs.

“We develop our micro-credentials in the Melbourne School of Professional and Continuing Education (MSPACE). We’re outside the traditional degrees, and that allows a bit more flexibility, and enables you to embrace new opportunities to collaborate with industry,” says McAlear.

For Leidos, the micro-certificate is bringing its workforce focused and relevant information and skills, Frankish adds. “This is ideal for ongoing development of staff who may have already completed degree-level courses but need to keep up to date with the latest trends and knowledge as markets and threats evolve over time.”

The University now offers almost 100 micro-certificates in a variety of disciplines. McAlear says Leidos has been instrumental in bringing this new course to life, from initially engaging with academic experts on a specific business challenge, to endorsing a training program that’s now accessible to all.

“They really were early adopters in this space. They’re at the forefront of what they do, and who they engage with. It’s been a real pleasure to be partners with them.”

A wide-ranging partnership

As well as being an endorsement partner for the Recognising and Managing Disinformation micro-credential, Leidos is partnering with the University of Melbourne on research and development in several different areas. Projects include creating ‘Mirrorworld’, a platform for agent-based investigations into social media interactions, and industry development programs in areas including cybersecurity and cyber resilience.

“Even though many academics may not have the industry or application experience, they have all this knowledge of either phenomenology or techniques that industry can use,” says Len Sciacca, Enterprise Professor in Defence Technologies. “It’s then a matter of working with the company to make those techniques work in real applications.”

The aim is to develop a long-term research and development relationship, through the interest of Australia developing its domestic capabilities. Frankish adds that Leidos is keen to grow the relationship and explore new ways of collaborating with the University in the future.

“Leidos is proud to partner with the University of Melbourne. Our mission of making the world safer, healthier and more efficient through technology, engineering and science is a common set of values that we believe aligns with our business and our customer’s needs.”

First published on 19 April 2023.

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