AN Edinburgh Napier University cyber project has been backed by new funding to explore ways of combatting phone-based impersonation and imposter scams – which cause substantial financial losses, privacy breaches and distress to people around the world.
LastingAsset, which began as a crypto asset security concept, has secured £200,000 in funding from Scottish Enterprise’s High Growth Spinout Programme and £20,000 from The Data Lab.
The LastingAsset team at ENU’s School of Computing, Engineering and the Built Environment (SCEBE) will now use the technology behind that original idea and spend the next year working with pilot customers to refine their anti-fraud product, before taking it to market.
Among other privacy features, it uses encryption technology to prevent rogue actors from impersonating an organisation’s phone number to dupe victims.
According to the UK Government’s latest fraud strategy, unsuspecting individuals and organisations lost £2.35bn through fraud in 2021, with the banking and finance industry losing £1.3bn.
Project leader Dr Zakwan Jaroucheh said: “Our research team were initially working on a custodial solution for crypto assets. While this remains a problem that needs addressing, we wanted to provide a solution to a more pressing societal challenge. This is when we pivoted to using the same underlying technologies to address the problem of impersonation phone call scams.
“In today’s modern digital world, businesses often find themselves unable to effectively protect their customers from cyber fraud, which tarnishes their reputation and their ability to use the voice calls effectively.
“The LastingAsset solution uses blockchain and homomorphic encryption technologies to effectively combat phone number spoofing, voice-based impersonation and cloning scams, without requiring the organisation to build a new security infrastructure.
“With this, any organisation that communicates with their customers by voice can assure customers that they are speaking with a genuine representative and not a scammer.”
Nanik Ramchandani of Imagine Ventures, who leads the project’s commercial team, said: “We are beginning trials with two pilot customers and opening our waiting list for additional pilots.
“It is going to be an incredibly exciting and rewarding journey over the coming months, as we translate our proof of concept and vision into a valuable offering to clients and stop scammers from defrauding fellow citizens.”
Recently named one of the top 10 universities in the UK for spin-out activity, ENU has supported the creation of many cyber spin-out businesses over the last 10 years, including Cyacomb, MemCrypt, Symphonic Software and ZoneFox. Four years ago, the university created the first identity lab in the world, the Blockpass ID Lab, which has focused on creating more trustworthy systems.
Supporting LastingAsset’s progression from research project to a spin-out business is ENU’s Professor Bill Buchanan, alongside Dr Cathy Higginson, Business Development and Relationship Manager at the University’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise department.
This latest funding received from Scottish Enterprise and The Data Lab will help the LastingAsset project team to integrate their solution with multiple early pilot customers.
Over the next eight to 12 months, they expect to work with more than 30 initial pilot customers in securing their voice communication. This process will allow the team to refine the architecture of their product; test their solution and increase its credibility. At the end of this period, they anticipate product-market fit and the ability to rapidly scale their offering.
Through Scottish Enterprise’s High-Growth Spinout Programme, LastingAsset is receiving £200,000 in funding, building upon £74,948 which was awarded in 2022.
Leah Pape, Head of High Growth Services at Scottish Enterprise, said: “Edinburgh Napier University has an enviable track record of producing companies whose products and platforms direct cutting-edge technological advancements into efforts to combat increasingly sophisticated fraudsters.
“Our grant builds on the funding and advice provided previously to LastingAsset at its earliest stages and underlines Scottish Enterprise’s commitment to supporting the development of the high-growth industries of the future.”
The Data Lab, Scotland’s innovation centre for data and AI, also recently funded £20k to help LastingAsset develop their proof of concept.
Brian Hills, CEO of The Data Lab, said: “Online scamming can have devastating impacts on unsuspecting victims’ finances and mental wellbeing, with recent advances in AI exacerbating the problem.
“Preventing people from falling victim to these crimes in the first place is key. The Data Lab were delighted to support the LastingAsset team at Edinburgh Napier University to develop their groundbreaking technology further to tackle online scamming and reduce the number of victims and financial losses.”