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Call: AI for cybersecurity reinforcement

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Programme
Acronym HE-CL3-CS
Type of Fund Direct Management
Description of programme
"Horizon Europe - Cluster 3 - Destination 4: Increased Cybersecurity"

Europe is in the midst of a digital transformation. Digital technologies are profoundly changing our daily life, our way of working and doing business, and the way people travel, communicate and relate with each other. Digital communication, social media interaction, artificial intelligence, e-government, e-commerce and digital enterprises are steadily transforming our world. They are generating an ever-increasing amount of data, which, if pooled and used, can lead to a completely new means and levels of value creation. The more interconnected we are, however, the more we are vulnerable to cyber threats.

Digital disruption, notably caused by malicious cyber activities, not only threaten our economies but also our way of life, our freedoms and values, and even try to undermine the cohesion and functioning of our democracy in Europe.

Regardless of the economic, political or personal motivations behind the cyber threats, securing our future wellbeing, freedoms, democratic governance, and prosperity depend on improving our capacity to shield the EU from malicious attacks and to address digital security weaknesses in general. The digital transformation requires improving cybersecurity substantially, so as to ensure the protection of the increasing number of connected devices and the safe operation of network and information systems, including the ones used in power grids, drinking water supply and distribution services, vehicles and transport systems, hospitals and the overall health system, finances, public institutions, factories, and homes. Europe must build resilience to cyber-attacks and create effective cyber deterrence, while making sure that data protection and freedom of citizens are strengthened. These efforts should include considerations for particularly vulnerable organisations and citizens.

The technological tools of cybersecurity are strategic assets, as well as being key growth technologies for the future. It is in the EU's strategic interest to ensure that the EU retains and develops the essential capacities to secure its digital economy, society and democracy, to protect critical hardware and software and to provide key cybersecurity services.

Cybersecurity research and innovation activities will support a Europe fit for the digital age, enabling and supporting digital innovation while highly preserving privacy, security, safety and ethical standards. They will contribute to the implementation of the digital and privacy policy of the Union, in particular the NIS Directive [[Directive (EU) 2016/1148 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 July 2016 concerning measures for a high common level of security of network and information systems across the Union (NIS Directive).]], the EU Cybersecurity Act [[Regulation (EU) 2019/881 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 April 2019 on ENISA (the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity) and on information and communications technology cybersecurity certification and repealing Regulation (EU) No 526/2013 (Cybersecurity Act).]], the EU Cybersecurity Strategy [[Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council The EU's Cybersecurity Strategy for the Digital Decade JOIN/2020/18 final.]], the GDPR[[Regulation (EU) 2016/679 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 27 April 2016 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data, and repealing Directive 95/46/EC (General Data Protection Regulation).]], and the future e-Privacy Regulation.

Research and innovation will build on the results of Horizon 2020 such as the pilot projects funded under SU-ICT-03-2018 [[Establishing and operating a pilot for a Cybersecurity Competence Network to develop and implement a common Cybersecurity Research & Innovation Roadmap.]].and other relevant H2020 topics and cybersecurity activities (e.g. carried out by ENISA [[https://www.enisa.europa.eu/]] or relevant parts of work of the EIT Digital[[https://www.eitdigital.eu/]]). The activities will be aligned as relevant with the future objectives of the Cybersecurity Competence Centre and Network of National Coordination Centres (Commission proposal COM(2018) 630). They will be complementary to actions under the Digital Europe Programme, Specific Objectives 3 and 4, which will strengthen EU cybersecurity capacity by support to deployment of cybersecurity infrastructures and tools across the EU, for public administrations, businesses, and individuals, and support digital skills including in cybersecurity. For example support is foreseen to specialised education programmes or modules in key capacity areas such as cybersecurity. Generally, cybersecurity is a horizontal challenge and is not be limited to Horizon Europe Cluster 3. In addition to the calls of the Horizon Europe of Cluster 3 - Civil Security for Society, other activities relevant for Cybersecurity will be supported in particular in the Work Programme part of Cluster 4 - Digital, Industry and Space.

Research and innovation results may feed into the operational work on preparedness and response in the Joint Cyber Unit [[see section 2.1 in The EU's Cybersecurity Strategy for the Digital Decade, JOIN(2020) 18 final. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/GA/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52020JC0018]].

Expected impacts:

Proposals for topics under this Destination should set out a credible pathway contributing to the following impact of the Strategic Plan 2021-2024: "Increased cybersecurity and a more secure online environment by developing and using effectively EU and Member States’ capabilities in digital technologies supporting protection of data and networks aspiring to technological sovereignty in this field, while respecting privacy and other fundamental rights; this should contribute to secure services, processes and products, as well as to robust digital infrastructures capable to resist and counter cyber-attacks and hybrid threats".

More specifically, proposals should contribute to the achievement of one or more of the following impacts:

  • Strengthened EU cybersecurity capacities and European Union sovereignty in digital technologies
  • More resilient digital infrastructures, systems and processes
  • Increased software, hardware and supply chain security
  • Secured disruptive technologies
  • Smart and quantifiable security assurance and certification shared across the EU
  • Reinforced awareness and a common cyber security management and culture
Link Link to Programme
Call
AI for cybersecurity reinforcement
Description of call
"AI for cybersecurity reinforcement"

Expected Outcome:

Projects are expected to contribute to some of the following expected outcomes:

  • Reinforced cybersecurity using AI technological components and tools in line with relevant EU policy, legal and ethical requirements.
  • Increased knowledge about how an attacker might use AI technology in order to attack IT systems.
  • Digital processes, products and systems resilient against AI-powered cyberattacks

The proposal should provide appropriate indicators to measure its progress and specific impact.

Scope:

Artificial intelligence (AI) is present in almost every application area where massive data are involved. Understanding the implications and possible side effects for cybersecurity however requires deep analysis, including further research and innovation. On the one hand, AI can be used to improve response and resilience such us for the early detection of threats and other malicious activities with the aim to more accurately identify, prevent and stop attacks. On the other hand, attackers are increasingly powering their tools by using AI or by manipulating AI systems (including the AI systems used to reinforce cybersecurity).

The proposed actions should develop AI-based methods and tools in order to address the following interrelated capabilities: (i) improve systems robustness (i.e. the ability of a system to maintain its initial stable configuration even when it processes erroneous inputs, thanks to self-testing and self-healing); (ii) improve systems resilience (i.e. the ability of a system to resist and tolerate an attack, anticipate, cope and evolve by facilitating threat and anomaly detection and allowing security analysts to retrieve information about cyber threats); (iii) improve systems response (i.e. the capacity of a system to respond autonomously to attacks, thanks to identifying vulnerabilities in other machines and operate strategically by deciding which vulnerability to attack and at which point, and by deceiving attackers; and to (iv) counter the ways AI can be used for attacking. Advanced AI-based solutions, including machine learning tools, as well as defensive mechanisms to ensure data integrity should also be included in the proposed actions. Proposals should strive to ultimately facilitate the work of relevant cybersecurity experts (e.g. by reducing the workloads of security operators).

Regarding the manifold links among AI and cybersecurity, privacy and personal data protection, applicants should demonstrate how their proposed solutions comply with and support the EU policy actions and guidelines relevant to AI (e.g. Ethics Guidelines for Trustworthy AI, the AI Whitepaper, EU Security Strategy and the Data Strategy). Proposals should foresee activities to collaborate with projects stemming from relevant topics included in the Cluster 4 “Digital, Industry and Space” of Horizon Europe. Generally, proposals should also build on the outcomes of and/or foresee actions to collaborate with other relevant projects (e.g. funded under Horizon 2020, Digital Europe Programme or Horizon Europe).

Proposals should strive to use, and contribute to, European relevant data pools (including federations of national and/or regional ones to render their proposed solutions more effective. To this end, applicants should crucially strive to ensure data quality and homogeneity of merged/federated data. Applicants should also identify and document relevant trade-offs between effectiveness of AI and fundamental rights (such as personal data protection). Moreover, privacy in big data should also be addressed.

Key performance indicators (KPI), with baseline targets in order to measure success and error rates, should demonstrate how the proposed work will bring significant progress to the state-of-the-art. All technologies and tools developed should be appropriately documented, to support take-up and replicability. Participation of SMEs is encouraged.

Link Link to Call
Thematic Focus Research & Innovation, Technology Transfer & Exchange, Capacity Building, Cooperation Networks, Institutional Cooperation, Clustering, Development Cooperation, Economic Cooperation, Digitisation, ICT, Telecommunication, Justice, Safety & Security, Disaster Prevention, Resiliance, Risk Management, Competitiveness, SME, Consumer Protection
Funding area EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Origin of Applicant EU Member States
Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)
Eligible applicants Research Institution, International Organization, Public Services, University, Federal State / Region / City / Municipality / Local Authority, National Government, Small and Medium Sized Enterprises, SMEs (between 10 and 249 employees), NGO / NPO, Enterprise (more than 250 employees or not defined), Lobby Group / Professional Association / Trade Union, Education and Training Centres
Applicant details

eligible non-EU countries:

  • countries associated to Horizon Europe
At the date of the publication of the work programme, there are no countries associated to Horizon Europe. Considering the Union’s interest to retain, in principle, relations with the countries associated to Horizon 2020, most third countries associated to Horizon 2020 are expected to be associated to Horizon Europe with an intention to secure uninterrupted continuity between Horizon 2020 and Horizon Europe. In addition, other third countries can also become associated to Horizon Europe during the programme. For the purposes of the eligibility conditions, applicants established in Horizon 2020 Associated Countries or in other third countries negotiating association to Horizon Europe will be treated as entities established in an Associated Country, if the Horizon Europe association agreement with the third country concerned applies at the time of signature of the grant agreement.

  • low-and middle-income countries

Legal entities which are established in countries not listed above will be eligible for funding if provided for in the specific call conditions, or if their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority.

Specific cases:

  • Affiliated entities - Affiliated entities are eligible for funding if they are established in one of the countries listed above.
  • EU bodies - Legal entities created under EU law may also be eligible to receive funding, unless their basic act states otherwise.
  • International organisations - International European research organisations are eligible to receive funding. Unless their participation is considered essential for implementing the action by the granting authority, other international organisations are not eligible to receive funding. International organisations with headquarters in a Member State or Associated Country are eligible to receive funding for ‘Training and mobility’actions and when provided for in the specific call conditions.
Project Partner Yes
Project Partner Details

Unless otherwise provided for in the specific call conditions , legal entities forming a consortium are eligible to participate in actions provided that the consortium includes:

  • at least one independent legal entity established in a Member State;and
  • at least two other independent legal entities, each established in different Member States or Associated Countries.
Call opens 30.06.2021
Call closes 21.10.2021
Further info

Proposal page limits and layout:

The application form will have two parts:

  • Part A to be filled in directly online  (administrative information, summarised budget, call-specific questions, etc.)
  • Part B to be downloaded from the Portal submission system, completed and re-uploaded as a PDF in the system

Page limit - Part B: 45 pages

Type of Funding Grants
Financial details
Expected EU contribution per projectThe Commission estimates that an EU contribution of between EUR 3.00 and 4.00 million would allow these outcomes to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of a proposal requesting different amounts.
Indicative budgetThe total indicative budget for the topic is EUR 11.00 million.
Typ of ActionResearch and Innovation Actions (RIA)
Funding rate100%

Some activities, resulting from this topic, may involve using classified background and/or producing of security sensitive results (EUCI and SEN). Please refer to the related provisions in section B Security — EU classified and sensitive information of the General Annexes.

Activities are expected to achieve TRL 4 by the end of the project.
Submission Proposals must be submitted electronically via the Funding & Tenders Portal Electronic Submission System. Paper submissions are NOTpossible.

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