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Northern Ireland generating cyber security knowledge and jobs

Northern Ireland is establishing itself as an international hub of cyber security research and innovation, providing growing employment opportunities

The cyber security industry in Northern Ireland provides employment for nearly 1,700 people and is on course to generate more than £70m in salaries each year, according to Máire O’Neill, professor at Queen’s University Belfast.

“With the unrelenting pace of digital adoption, the role of cyber security has never been more significant. Its importance to our lives and livelihoods is increasing exponentially and those with the skillsets to contribute to this vital societal need will always have a place in the new economy,” she told the 9th World Cyber Security Technology Research Summit in Belfast.

The summit is hosted by the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT), which is the UK’s Innovation and Knowledge Centre in cyber security and based at Queen’s University Belfast’s Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology (ECIT).

O’Neill, who is principal investigator at CSIT, said the centre’s role is not only to engage in research of the highest international quality, but also to work closely with industry to drive economic development.

“This is facilitated by our unique model in which industrially experienced engineers and a commercial team with deep domain expertise in cyber work alongside academic partners on the one hand, and industrial partners on the other, to drive economic impact,” she told an audience of industry leaders, startups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs,) government policy makers and researchers from around the world.

As part of its mission to work with industry, CSIT provides academic and engineering support for the London Office for Rapid Cybersecurity Advancement (Lorca), which is aimed at helping startups to scale their organisations at pace and to access and grow into new markets, secure further investment, and recruit and retain the best talent.

In its first decade, O’Neill said CSIT has had “significant successes” in developing a talent pipeline through its fully certified Masters in Applied Cyber Security and PhD training programme, attracting significant research programmes, and achieving high quality award-winning research publications.

Other successes, she said, have been in the translation of research to industry and spin-out companies, in delivering effective innovation programmes, and in staff advising local and national government departments on a variety of strategic initiatives and policies in relation to cyber security.

“Looking back to 2009 when CSIT was established, there was little or no business activity here in Belfast in the field of cyber security. CSIT’s regional impact has ensured Northern Ireland is the top international investment location for US cyber security development projects.”

The CSIT membership model, said O’Neill, has resulted in the development of long-standing advisory and industrial collaborations with global partners. “This has allowed our research to translate to industry in an agile way,” she added.

Looking to the future, O’Neill said CSIT has “exciting plans” under the theme of ‘secure connected intelligence’, with research planned in the areas of privacy-preserving distributed analytics, supply chain security and hardware Trojan detection, resilience in industrial control systems, artificial intelligence (AI) for cyber security, and inconspicuous security through smart network technologies.

“Through our involvement in the Global Innovation Institute [GII], CSIT looks forward to applying our cyber security technology research not only to IT disciplines, but also to the agri-food, healthcare, financial services and advanced manufacturing sectors,” she said.

Building on the current 1,700 cyber security jobs in Northern Ireland, O’Neill said CSIT has worked with the government to set a target of 5,000 cyber security professionals in Northern Ireland by 2030.

“Through the Belfast Region City Deal, our ambitious GII plans, and building on our proven success with CSIT, its research excellence, industry engagement, and economic impact, we are confident we can achieve this target in the next 10 years,” she said.

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