skip to content

Department of Computer Science and Technology

Gabor Pituk received his award at a ceremony in London's Mansion House

An undergraduate working on a pioneering new way to make our digital devices more secure has become the third student to win the annual Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers' Award for Excellence and Achievement in Computer Hardware.

Gábor Pituk received the award at a ceremony at the Mansion House in London (the home and office of the Lord Mayor). It recognised his work on CHERI, a long-standing research project here that works to protect digital devices against a large number of cyberattacks. 

Since it started in 2010 with colleagues at SRI International, the CHERI project has attracted collaborators at Arm, Microsoft and Google. Today CHERI leads the UK government’s £200m Digital Security by Design programme, which aims to transform digital technology and create a more resilient and secure foundation for a safer future.

The programme is currently rolling out a prototype of the CHERI technology to companies across the UK for widescale industrial testing.

CHERI aims to make devices more secure by providing protection against vulnerabilities in historically unsafe software. A key part of the work is on software compartmentalisation, a technique that separates computer operating systems and the application software that runs on them into small, discrete pieces. So even if hackers are able to exploit a vulnerability in one component in a computer system, they can’t get to everything inside.

It has been difficult and expensive to implement this approach on current hardware. CHERI, however, enables new hardware capability technology.

Gábor received the award for his work on the project. He explains: "CHERI extends processor Instruction-Set Architectures with hardware capabilities that enable fine-grained memory protection and software compartmentalisation. My dissertation – 'CHERI: Sandboxing libraries in the run-time linker' – explored a novel approach to executing untrusted code in a secure 'sandbox' environment on CHERI-enabled hardware.

"I prototyped a novel sandboxing mechanism, showed that it provides strong security guarantees and superior performance to other approaches, and demonstrated that it is a practical way to compartmentalise existing unsafe software."

Gold wire used in textiles – and technology
It may seem curious that his award for this work should come from the Worshipful Company of Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers. This is a Livery Company promoting the skill of producing very high grade gold and silver wire and thread typically used for embroidering flags, banners, uniforms and vestments. The wire drawers' skills were first brought to London by European craftsmen during the 15th century.

Six hundred years later, gold and silver wire products are still used in textiles and jewellery. But today they are also used for high-tech purposes. High-grade gold wire, for example, is a key component of the hundreds of billions of microchips and microprocessors produced worldwide.

To reflect this evolution, the Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers established an annual award here in the Department in 2019 for exceptional work in the design or development of computer hardware. Since its earliest days, this Department has had a strong culture of building computers and computer systems, and this award celebrates that tradition.

Gábor, who graduated with a first class honours with distinction in Computer Science and Mathematics, and is now studying for an MSc in Statistical Science at Oxford, adds: "It was a great honour to receive the award at the Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers' Annual Livery Banquet in Mansion House. I am glad to see how the company has managed to connect their traditional craft with modern technology, and decided to support young talent through this award."

Published by Rachel Gardner on Monday 30th January 2023


Gábor Pituk (centre) receiving his award from Sir William Russell, Lord Mayor of London 2019-21 (left) and Mr Brian Turner (right), Master of the Gold and Silver Wyre Drawers 2022.