Máire O'Neill

2019 United Kingdom Award Finalist — Faculty

Máire O'Neill

Current Position:
Professor of Information Security; Principal Investigator, Centre for Secure Information Technologies; Director, UK Research Institute in Secure Hardware and Embedded Systems

Queen's University Belfast

Electrical Engineering

Recognized for: Inventing novel attack-resilient computer hardware platforms and chipdesigns that have found immediate applications.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Hardware Security, Data Security Architectures, Computer Arithmetic, Physical Unclonable Functions, Post-quantum Cryptography

Máire O'Neill


MEng, Queen's University Belfast
PhD, Queen's University Belfast (Advisor: Prof. Sir John McCanny)
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Queen's University Belfast (Advisor: Prof. Sir John McCanny)
Royal Academy of Engineering Research Fellowship and EPSRC Leadership Fellowship, Queen's University Belfast

Prof. Máire O'Neill has established a world-class reputation for her research and invention in the field of hardware security - the development of attack-resilient computer hardware platforms and chip designs. She has developed several novel hardware architectures that could be immediately realized in real applications, providing performance levels that are orders of magnitude faster than prior security implementations while also being cost effective.

Early in her career, Prof. O'Neill developed an optimized integrated circuit design of the advanced encryption standard (AES), today's most widely used encryption algorithm. Her single-chip AES design improved hardware efficiency six fold, and has been successfully commercialized and incorporated in more than 100 million digital TV decoders worldwide by 2011. Her recent work has produced the most robust and low-cost solution of physical unclonable functions (PUFs), a technique utilizing variations in integrated circuit manufacturing processes to extract unique 'digital fingerprints' for computer devices to verify their authenticity. Her patented PUF technique is currently undergoing technology translation, and has been built into a demonstration model to address electronic component counterfeiting in industry. Her major contributions also include a novel hardware security architecture based on nanotechnology with ultra-low power consumption, and an optimized hardware design that speeds up fully homomorphic encryption, a cryptosystem supporting direct computation on encrypted data without decoding, by 130 times. Her achievements have already generated an enormous impact in society, which will continue to increase as cyber attacks costing the global economy hundreds of billions of dollars annually continue to grow at an unprecedented scale.

"The explosion in the number of connected devices through both cloud and Internet of Things technologies has led to growing security and privacy concerns. A strong hardware security foundation is essential in realising effective security in these ICT systems. My research seeks to provide practical and effective hardware security solutions that meet the real-time computation and resource-constrained requirements of ICT systems, services and applications."

Key Publications:

  1. J. Howe, A. Khalid, C. Rafferty, F. Regazzoni, M. O'NeillOn practical discrete Gaussian samplers for lattice-based cryptography. IEEE Transactions on Computers, 2018.

  2. X. Cao, C. Moore, M. O'Neill, M, E. O'Sullivan, N. Hanley. Optimised multiplication architectures for accelerating fully homomorphic encryption. IEEE Transactions on Computers, 2016.

  3. C. J. McIvor, M. McLoone, J. V. McCanny. Hardware elliptic curve cryptographic processor over GF(p). IEEE Transactions on Circuits & Systems Part I, 2006.

  4. M. McLoone, J. V. McCanny. Rijndael FPGA implementations utilising look-up tables. Journal of VLSI Signal Processing Systems, 2003.

Other Honors:

2017Member, Royal Irish Academy
2015Fellow, Irish Academy of Engineering
2014Silver Medal, Royal Academy of Engineering
2008Leadership Fellowship, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
2007British Female Inventor of the Year, British Female Inventors & Innovators Network (BFIIN)
2006Women's Engineering Society prize; Young Woman Engineer of the Year awards, Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)
2003Research Fellowship, Royal Academy of Engineering


In the Media:

Infosecurity Magazine - UK Hails £5m Hardware Security Research Centre

Siliconrepublic - Keeping ahead of the hackers in a hyper-connected world

The Irish Times - Belfast-based unit aims to reduce vulnerability to cyber threats

The Irish Times - From the blockchain to quantum cryptography

Belfast Telegraph - At 36, Maire's youngest engineering professor in Queen's history, youngest Irish Academy fellow, a former inventor of the year and on cusp of science hall of fame

BBC - World Service Forum Programme on Codes and ciphers

Times Higher Education - I'm engineering change in girl's aspirations