LONDON — The creation of a UK virtual cyber operations center aimed at defeating battlefield attacks has taken took a step forward with the award of a small study contract to Airbus UK by Ministry of Defence researchers.

Airbus Group's technology innovation arm in the UK announced Monday March 23 it had secured a £1.4 million (US $2.1 million) deal late last year from the MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) to study the development of a 3-D virtual world to enable analysts, military experts and others to collaborate and share situational awareness to detect and counter cyber attacks on information and weapon systems.

The 16-month study is part of a Dstl's research project underway since 2011 to develop and mature the possible creation by the MoD of a virtual cyber center of operations (VCCO).

Airbus has signed up two subcontractors to provide additional expertise for the contract. Mood International will provide visual analytics and Xuvasi event correlation data.

In a presentation, Airbus said the operations center is aimed at ensuring geographically dispersed personnel can quickly access cyber capability, collaborate, analyze information and respond to cyber threats.

Kevin Jones, the research team leader for cyber operations at Airbus Group Innovations, said that the physical security operations centers in use today will only provide part of the answers to the increasingly complex cyber attacks now being seen.

"People are key to understanding what's going on [in the VCCO]. We need to talk about what we are seeing in highly complex cyber events. It's highly unlikely one person will see every piece of the jigsaw they need in order to protect and migrate cyber attacks. People must collaborate with each other to understand the information they have," he said

"A physical security operations center may have some of the tools I need, they may have some of the information I need and probably they have some of the people I need. But if you think of a distributed network or infrastructure then you are likely to have many security operations centers or many pieces of the jigsaw. How do I bring them all together? That's what a VCCO will do," said Jones.

"VCCO will sit in the middle. Provide all the tools and information you expect to see in a physical operations center but in a virtual world. The idea is it's about the collaboration of people first then comes the information, data and tools that are needed.That way I can start bringing together the complex picture that makes up the jigsaw of cyber defense," he said.

A VCCO would allow access to experts wherever they are in the world in real time to problem solve. Access would be available to deployed operational headquarters and maybe even forward operating bases.

Jones said the aim of the new study iswas to get to the point where they can work on a full technology demonstrator platform.

"We hope to have a technology demonstrator platform by the end of 2017. [A date for] deployment is a tricky question as there is a lot of certification required. I also think there is a next generational MoD network infrastructure coming down the line we would need to consider to make some of the perimeter elements of this work and not just the core net infrastructure that exists at the moment," he said.

Ben Parish, Dstl's cyber situational awareness capability adviser, said the study was in part about "us de-risking some of the challenges, taking the concept from a laboratory environment to a more real word environment."

"This research is about collaboration to support situational awareness. We know there are a number of security vendors offering products to support and mitigate cyber attacks and offer security. What we need to do is understand how we can piece those products together to provide a richer situational awareness picture to better understand what's going on," Parish said.