The Future of Cybersecurity in Wales

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Prof. Pete Burnap – Professor of Data Science & Cybersecurity, Cardiff University, Cyber Lead of Technology Connected Leadership Council

Wales has a thriving cybersecurity sector which is growing an international reputation

Cybersecurity is a word often used interchangeably with terms like Data, Artificial Intelligence and Fintech. These may all be “tech” related but conflating them risks underselling the particular strengths of the Welsh tech sector. They are all sectors in their own right and must be recognised and promoted as such.

Having spent the last 12 months or so working with colleagues in the cybersecurity sector across academia, industry and government in Wales, I am very confident that Wales has all the ingredients for a strong cybersecurity sector that can not only survive the current and forthcoming economic challenges, but support its recovery.

I say this on the basis of externally validated evidence – an internationally recognised mix of cybersecurity-focussed big business, a critical mass of small enterprise and GCHQ-recognised academic excellence – promoted by Welsh Government strategy. Wales has the conditions that are right for continued and renewed inward investment in cybersecurity.

In the Welsh Government International Strategy, Wales is recognised as world class in cybersecurity.

The Cardiff Capital Region (CCR) too has identified cybersecurity as a key sector of interest in its investment framework and Skills Partnership.

With this in mind, to attract the best talent, secure inward investment and grow the industry, it is imperative for Wales to create a clear narrative to promote cybersecurity as a core sector both nationally and internationally.

Let’s start with big businesses, or “Primes”, whose core activity is focussed on products, services, or innovation in cybersecurity.  Thales and Airbus have laid significant roots in cybersecurity innovation in Wales and are heavily engaged with public sector activities. Thales’ National Digital Exploitation Centre in Ebbw Vale and Airbus’ CyberLab in Newport represent £28m of investment in cybersecurity innovation in partnership with Welsh Government, Cardiff University and University of South Wales.

This sits alongside large business footprints at BAE Systems, BT, General Dynamics, CGI and PwC – the latter two having built cybersecurity hubs in Bridgend and Cardiff respectively aiming to develop a platform for the future through the recruitment of over 200 people in cyber roles between them.

In addition to the big firms, the 2020 UK Cyber Security Sectoral Analysis report published by the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) suggests there are around 60 SMEs in Wales specialising in cybersecurity. This is a significant number for such a small nation; moreover, these organisations are very well co-ordinated through the South and North Wales Cyber Security Cluster networks,  meaning they connect, exchange knowledge and ideas, and are well-positioned to adapt, respond to change, survive and grow – with several cyber SMEs now trading internationally.

The training of highly skilled graduates is also crucial to growing the cybersecurity sector and massively important to feed the ever-growing cluster of SMEs and start-ups across Wales.

Wales has three Universities who are recognised by the National Cyber Security Centre (part of GCHQ) for excellence in either research or teaching (Cardiff, Cardiff Met and USW). Their work underpins ground-breaking research that has seeded spinouts and SME’s and been translated into larger businesses. This creates a strong, sustainable supply chain in Wales, recognised and valued by its businesses.

We need to build strategically around these strength in order to develop a fully-fledged ecosystem that is diverse, responsive, adaptable, forward looking and sustainable.

We need to find ways to quickly identify and invest in the development and growth of the brightest new ideas in cybersecurity; support more traditional companies to understand how they invest in systems and people to protect their futures using these new ideas; and satisfy the growing demand for trained cybersecurity professionals to work within all sectors.

We have a growing number of cybersecurity start-ups and SMEs in Wales, but only a handful are trading internationally or currently receiving business support specifically tailored to accelerate cybersecurity products and services.

Likewise, while we have a good supply of talent, it is not enough to meet predicted demand, and the sector is not as diverse or inclusive as it needs to be.  We are committed to doing more to build capacity through skills to meet the needs of key employers, and to helping people – at all stages of their life or learning, and from all backgrounds – to move towards a career in cybersecurity here.

Example initiatives like the Cyber College Cymru, already demonstrate hundreds of hours of industry input from the likes of Admiral, Thales and Fujitsu in the form of mentoring and placements and there’s much more we can do to help re-skill or up-skill those seeking second careers.

We know that there is international interest in what we do here.  

The National Cyber Security Centre planned to host its flagship annual conference, CyberUK, at the Newport International Conference Centre in May 2020.   When this is rescheduled post-Covid it will attract around 2,000 attendees and senior officials to the region from across the world, providing a unique opportunity to really showcase Wales’ excellent cybersecurity sector and its cyber innovation ecosystem success stories.

During Covid, the recent efforts by the Welsh cybersecurity community to pull this eco-system together will continue.  We want to focus on: creating cybersecurity challenges for entrepreneurial individuals and companies that can impact the future in positive ways; sustaining and growing the number and size of cybersecurity companies headquartered in Wales; bolstering skills offerings to attract talent into cybersecurity; and – crucially – creating an environment for appropriate incubation and acceleration of internationally-facing companies of all sizes.

Having these ingredients makes us a nationally excellent cybersecurity ecosystem. Wales has the potential to develop a world-class cybersecurity cluster for the future, recognised for securing high-quality jobs and inclusive economic growth. It is in these areas of strength in fundamental development and advancement of technology that the region will need to look post- Covid to drive the economy.