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How Wales has evolved into a hotspot for cyber security

Wales may be a small country but, in just a few years, it has become a global hotspot for cyber security innovation

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While Wales may be relatively small country, it has always been a catalyst for big industry. Throughout the 1800s and 1900s, it was a pioneering force for coal and steel, with Welsh companies trading right throughout the world. However, times have changed, and these sectors have become obsolete.

As a result, Welsh companies, entrepreneurs and workers have had to look for new opportunities, and tech has emerged as the frontrunner.

Over the past few years, the country has seen the emergence of a bustling technology industry. According to a report published in 2016 by law firm Nockolds, Wales has the fastest-growing digital economy after London.

Welsh government statistics also show the success of the industry. The nation’s technology industry, it claims, is already worth £8.5bn to the Welsh economy. It is home to more than 3,000 local and international technology companies, including industry giants such as BT, Thales, Qinetiq, Airbus and General Dynamics.

Although the tech sector in Wales is incredibly diverse, cyber security has contributed hugely to its success. The country has become a UK leader in the sector thanks to the success of companies such as Alert Logic, Wolfberry, ITSUS Consulting and Pervade Software, which are hailing it as the prime location for the research and development (R&D) and commercialisation of defence and security products.

Meanwhile, Welsh educational institutions are training the next generation of cyber professionals.

World-leading training

Cyber attacks are constantly growing in occurrence and complexity, which is why it is crucial for companies to have the right professionals to deal with threats. However, there is widespread concern about the growing skills gap. The University of South Wales is one of the academic institutions looking to fix this problem.

In 2016, the university teamed up with the Welsh Government to launch the National Cyber Security Academy (NCSA) at a cost of around £500,000. Based at its Newport campus, the organisation is aimed at developing the next generation of cyber security professionals.

It facilitates a cohort of students who are working on vocational projects set by industry partners. Companies involved include Innovation Point, Airbus, West Gate Cyber and General Dynamics.

Stephen Biggs, a senior lecturer at the university’s faculty of computing, engineering and science, is responsible for running the academy. He explains to Computer Weekly that the academy is working to provide the cyber security industry with graduates who can hit the ground running.

“USW’s vision, through the NCSA, is to provide industry with ‘work-ready’ graduates with a blend of cyber-skills that will help plug this skills gap,” he says.

“USW will achieve this by immersing its NCSA students into live, industry-led projects through the three years of their BSc (Hons) Applied Cyber Security degree, and by emulating the workplace the students will find themselves in when they graduate.”

This philosophy has already been tried and tested effectively as part of the pilot study, in collaboration with industry partners from a wide range of sectors.

“USW is not only fully committed to students who embark and enrol on their degrees, it also works tirelessly with schools and colleges, both locally and nationally, to ensure the skills gap is plugged with a continuous feed of work-ready graduates,” says Biggs.

Home to top companies

Alert Logic is one of many international cyber security companies to call Wales home. Founded in 2002 and headquartered in Texas, it has established a successful operation in Cardiff.

The firm provides security and compliance systems for the cloud, and works with leading platforms and hosting providers to protect more than 2,700 organisations worldwide. Its platform stores petabytes of data, analyses more than 400 million events and identifies over 50,000 security incidents each month.

In 2014, the company launched a European headquarters in Cardiff, where it employs 125 cyber security professionals. David Howorth, senior vice-president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa (Emea) at Alert Logic, says his company has been able to attract top talent thanks to support from the Welsh Government and local universities.

“In 2014 we made the decision to expand our operations into Emea and, in doing so, selected Cardiff as our European headquarters. Alert Logic now employs over 170 people in the UK, 125 of which are based in Cardiff – the location for our state of the art SOC [security operations centre],” he says.

“Since our initial decision to invest in Cardiff, we have been able to attract and recruit such a large number of highly skilled employees – testament to the ambitions of local government and the surrounding universities to cement the region as a UK hub for cyber security.

“The SOC was established to support demand from our rapidly expanding customer base in Europe, delivering a fully managed, enterprise-grade service through the Alert Logic suite of network, system and application security technologies, protecting customers through rapid detection and response to cyber threats and other security incidents.”

Research excellence

Airbus, a multinational aerospace and defence corporation, runs its prestigious cyber security research unit from the Welsh city of Newport. It provides companies, critical national infrastructures, governments and defence organisations with the products and services needed to detect, analyse and respond to sophisticated cyber attacks.

Ian Goslin, who heads up the unit, says Wales has quickly evolved into a core centre for cyber security businesses over the past few years. He believes that the success of this industry in Wales is thanks to support from the likes of the South Wales Cyber Security Cluster and the Welsh Government.

“Wales is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a centre of excellence – not just for cyber security, but also the complementary disciplines of communication and ICT. Particularly in south east Wales, a natural cyber cluster has evolved over recent years, due in part to the rich mix of anchor companies,” he says.

“There is an industry group called the ‘South Wales Cyber Security Cluster’ that has over 100 SMEs [small to medium-sized enterprises], large industrial organisations – such as Airbus – and strong academia collaborating on advanced cyber programmes.

“Together, this DNA creates a pedigree and heritage that rivals anywhere in the UK. This is all supported by the forward-looking Welsh Government, which has invested time and resources to further nurture and support areas of smart specialisation.”

Goslin says operating from Wales has been a big success and hails the quality of talent available in the country. “From Airbus’s perspective, having our global cyber research centre based in Newport is extremely positive,” he says.

“Cyber and digital are going to be significant to economic growth across Wales’ industrial base and for global organisations. We have the skills in Wales to do that, with the ecosystem to support it, and Airbus is proud to be part of it.”

High-quality support

The success of Wales’s cyber security industry comes down to the combined strength of talent, innovative companies and organisations offering high-quality support.

But there are a number of individuals who are also playing a pivotal role in the growth of the sector, and John Davies is one of them. He is the founder of independent cyber security systems supplier Pervade Software and chairman of the South Wales Cyber Security Cluster, which represents and aids the growth of Welsh cyber firms.

Speaking about the success of his organisation and the industry, he says: “A cluster is an informal networking group of such companies and there are 18 clusters in the UK. Wales Cyber Security Cluster membership is currently 400 specialists from 300 organisations, making it the largest cluster of its kind. So, by this measure, Wales really is a hub for cyber security in the UK.”

Members of the Wales Cyber Security Cluster include global giants, innovation award winners, cyber service providers and consulting firms. These cyber companies are complemented by some of the largest companies in Wales who attend meetings to share their experiences and challenges.

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“The next generation of cyber specialists are being bred right here in Wales with leading cyber courses running in all the major universities and the National Cyber Security Academy [NCSA] in Newport pioneering a new degree course,” says Davies.

“There is an ecosystem of digital and tech companies in Wales and the cluster works closely with Innovation Point and the Welsh Government to make Wales the safest place to do business in cyber space,” he says.

Davies not only supports the growth of Wales’s cyber security scene through leading the country’s cluster, but he also runs his own IT security company Pervade Software.

Having launched in 2009, it has quickly become one of Wales’s leading tech firms, operating in more than 80 countries across the world. Like many other Welsh cyber and technology firms, Pervade Software has received support from the likes of Cardiff University and the Welsh Government.

“We formed the business back in 2009, before the existence of cyber security clusters or even the widespread use of the term cyber security. However, as the cyber threat has grown, so has the number of people and companies working in this burgeoning industry in Wales. Many have risen to the challenge, and every week we discover yet another cyber business beavering away somewhere in Wales,” he says.

“We have discovered that Wales is one of the richest places in the world for skills, expertise, resources and support for cyber security companies. It also has leading Universities with specific cyber security facilities, such as the NCSA at the University of South Wales – the first of its kind in Wales and a major UK initiative – and Newport’s National Software Academy at the University of Cardiff.”

There is no denying the fact that Wales is a small country, but it is certainly punching above its weight when it comes to technology.

In a relatively small space of time, a successful cyber security industry has emerged, supported by a cluster of industry titans and small startups. This has been made possible thanks to top talent and support from a variety of organisations, including the Welsh Government and local universities.

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