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Providing researchers with secure access to linked health data

AARNet is a project partner for the development and operation of the Secure Unified Research Environment (SURE), a remote data access environment for health researchers.

Providing researchers with secure access to linked health data

The Secure Access Research Environment, or SURE, is an Australian-first technology initiative.

SURE  is designed specifically for health researchers, giving them one-stop access to health information from sources such as hospitals, cancer registries, clinical trials, general practice, and research studies.

SURE is accessed using an encrypted Internet connection from researchers’ local computers, which must meet specified security requirements. SURE’s primary connection is through AARNet as most of its users are typically based on university campuses across Australia and directly connected to the high-speed AARNet research network.

Within SURE, users are provided with a remote virtual computer desktop for each research study they are involved in. Each research project exists within its own security perimeter so data cannot be exchanged between studies.

SURE is an initiative of the Sax Institute, a non-profit organisation whose mission is to improve health services and programs by increasing the use of research evidence in health policy.

Making the most of health data

How to make the most of the information that is routinely generated by our national and state health services for research that will ultimately benefit of all Australians was the challenge SURE set out to address.

AARNet worked with SURE to develop the high-capacity secure networking infrastructure and technologies to support SURE’s powerful computing environment and improve the process of accessing and analysing linked health data, allowing researchers to make better use of Australia’s unique large-scale data resources.

Researchers are able to conduct their studies more quickly and focus on providing timely answers that can be used in developing health policies and programs. SURE  also means that information is stored in one highly secure location, rather than multiple locations, during the course of a research project.

SURE provides a consistent level of security so that all researchers using it to work with data follow the same security protocols. No data are stored on a researcher’s local computer or in their institution’s computing environment. All data accessed in SURE is anonymised by the data owners before they enter the system.

Computers used to access SURE must meet certain security requirements. Within SURE, users cannot access the Internet, print or use removable media.

A complete audit trail of all information entering or leaving SURE is maintained. The facility is protected by multiple firewalls and data are stored centrally on servers located in a high-level secure data centre with strict access controls and 24-hour security surveillance.

Remote access for researchers

Because SURE can be accessed remotely, researchers from different institutions at different sites across Australia will have new opportunities to collaborate on important, large-scale research projects in the national interest. SURE will allow them to share cutting-edge methods and tools, increasing the quality and efficiency of their research. This will help to boost the international competitiveness of our researchers and attract new research funding.

SURE promotes "Big Science" in health research by boosting Australia's capacity to conduct large-scale collaborative research projects that tackle major health issues.

What our customers are saying

“The high-performance nature of the AARNet-enabled SURE computing environment enabled will mean faster analyses and greater storage capacity for researchers dealing with these large research data files.”

Jim Sloan, IT and SURE Business Services Manager