Ensuring a bright future for securely linked data: SURE

Safeguarding the security of sensitive data, whilst simultaneously ensuring researchers have access to the linked data they need to analyse and improve systems, policies and practices, is an ongoing challenge for data custodians and policymakers across Australia.

SURE addresses many of the concerns of public data custodians and of human research ethics committees in approving the use in research of de-identified personal data, and is enabling research that might not otherwise have been possible.

Satisfaction in SURE

SURE is a purpose-built remote-access data research laboratory for analysing routinely collected data. It was established by the Sax Institute with funding from the Australian Government National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS), as part of the Population Health Research Network (PHRN).

In recent years there has been an increase in the number – and satisfaction – of researchers using the platform.

There are more than 230 individual researchers accessing data through SURE on 83 separate research studies. A recent survey of users found an 87% satisfaction rate, indicating the SURE environment and the SURE team are meeting the needs of the overwhelming majority of users.

There are currently 13 different data custodian organisations from a wide range of state and commonwealth government agencies uploading data to SURE.

SURE can benefit many government agencies and researchers in health and human services and beyond. SURE is already reaching into new areas of research, with a new focus in 2018 on demonstrating the potential for SURE to assist with research into therapeutic development

An important piece of the nation’s research infrastructure

SURE provides the necessary security demanded by data custodians and agencies, meaning that Australia’s world-class researchers can securely access linked data.

SURE provides a solution to the problem of protecting the confidentiality and privacy of de-identified research data, through a shared remote access computing environment.

Access to SURE can only occur via a specially designed Curated Gateway. All data moving in and out of the gateway must be reviewed and approved by a study’s chief investigator or an alternate senior investigator. Within SURE there is no access to email, internet or printing, and it is not possible to download files onto a USB or any other device. Only the researchers listed on the ethics approval and data custodian approvals have access to that study’s datasets.

Once data custodians provide data to SURE, approved researchers can then access it securely from anywhere in the world without the data ever leaving the secure environment in a high-security Australian data centre. This means that researchers are able to complete their work securely and remotely, for example, researchers in north-western NSW can securely access linked NSW health data without the time and the expense of having to commute back and forth to Sydney

The team at SURE plan to spend 2018 maintaining and refining the cutting-edge security systems, improving the experience for users within SURE and making more data custodians outside of health and human services aware of the possibility of securely sharing their data with researchers through SURE.

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