Interview with Dr. Frank Tong – Chief Executive Officer and Dr. Duncan Wong – Vice President, Financial Technologies of the government-funded Hong Kong Applied Science and Technology Research Institute (ASTRI)
With the increasing sophisticated level and impact of cyber-attacks, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) has rolled out Cybersecurity Fortification Initiative (CFI) which consists of three pillars (i) Cyber Resilience Assessment Framework (ii) Professional Development Programme and (iii) Cyber Intelligence Sharing Platform. Dr. Frank Tong, CEO of ASTRI, and Dr. Duncan Wong, Vice President, Financial Technologies of ASTRI, shared their view on the current cybersecurity landscape, development, and what ASTRI can do to contribute to the HK industry.
Sia Partners (S.P.): What is the key mission of ASTRI?
Frank Tong (F.T.): Our key mission is to enhance Hong Kong (HK)’s competitiveness in technology-based industries through applied research. In order to achieve this mission, we develop high quality R&D, transfer that into HK industries to help them develop. Since HK is a major financial hub in the world, FinTech development is crucial to enhance the strength of the financial services industry in HK.
Duncan Wong (D.W.): Under the FinTech initiative, we have four pillars: (i) cybersecurity, (ii) big data analytics which includes deep learning and artificial intelligence, (iii) blockchain, and (iv) mobile computing.
(S.P.): What is ASTRI’s role in Cybersecurity research and development for Hong Kong?
(D.W.): Basically, you can consider ASTRI as the technology arm of HK. Cybersecurity is very important, not just for financial institutions but also for other industries. Being the biggest R&D centre for ICT (Information and communications technologies), ASTRI plays a role in the technology development and promotes the adoption of latest technologies in cybersecurity in order to nurture the industries and enhance the cybersecurity readiness for the entire society.
(F.T.): We are here to build necessary infrastructure such as the ASTRI Security Lab (ASL) for training and the security intelligence sharing platform for people in the industries.
ASTRI has around 500 people with strong expertise, we can do in depth R&D where the small companies are not eager or have no capability to conduct. We do not compete with SMEs. For example, we developed our solutions in open source and could license the solutions to other industry members so that they could utilize it for their customers.
(S.P.): In addition to Cybersecurity, what other key initiatives that ASTRI has taken on?
(D.W.): In addition to cybersecurity, ASTRI has taken on other FinTech initiatives such as blockchain big data analytics, deep learning, and artificial intelligence. All of these technologies are not just for the financial service industry, but also for intelligent manufacturing and other industries.
Especially for blockchain, we are actually investing a lot on this technology because we can see it has a promising future. Right now, blockchain development is still at a very early stage that puts us in the right position and timing to contribute by developing and educating the industry so that they know what the blockchain is.
(F.T.): Blockchain is identified as disruptive and impactful to the entire financial services industry. We have several teams working on blockchain in the past two years. We are working with the external parties, outside and inside HK, trying to bring up the awareness of HK and bring in the technology. We also commissioned to work on a white paper with a proof of concept on blockchain technology which will be ready by the end of this year.
In term of data analytics, we have built the engine together with Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and the solution is available on the market. The fact that big data analytics is so powerful, we are working on a project with the banking sector. Another area that has high demand is the manufacturing sector as they are particularly interested in predictive analysis.
For cloud based and mobile computing, we have been working on a program that can recognize Chinese characters. In addition, we are also working on facial, biometric and behavioral recognition technology. We also have a group working on algorithmic trading.
(S.P.): Given the increasing demand of Cybersecurity talents, how does ASTRI, which is a non-profit organization, retain or even expand its talent pool?
(F.T.): Increasing demand in cybersecurity talent is a big issue. There is a mismatch between what the students learn in the universities and what the market really demands. As a result, some graduates cannot find jobs and we cannot find the right people. Universities have just recently launched cybersecurity programs, but cybersecurity is a new topic and moving so fast, normally universities will need time to react. The shortage in cybersecurity talent is not just a HK problem, but also a global one.
To cope with this issue, we should think about how to work with universities by creating a co-op program, where students can study the program at the university and at the same time work on ASTRI projects and get trained.
(D.W.): We have so many mega projects such as Cyber Range, this is how we can attract, train and further nurture talents locally. Besides that, we are hiring people internationally from Europe, Taiwan, and Ukraine etc.
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