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2020 a record year for cyber, thanks to Covid

The UK’s cyber industry now employs close to 50,000 people and contributes billions to the economy

The unprecedented acceleration of digital transformation during the Covid-19 pandemic saw £821m of investment pumped into the UK’s cyber security sector – more than double the amount raised in 2019 – according to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS’s) annual Cyber sector report, which has just been published.

The UK’s cyber sector saw growth across the board, with an estimated 3,800 new “recruits” taking the number employed in the industry to 46,683, up 9%, and a 21% increase in the number of security firms operating, to 1,483, which made £8.9bn in sales, up 7%, and contributed £4bn to the economy, up 6%.

The study is part of an ongoing series that DCMS has been producing since 2018, tracking the security industry across several indicators. For this instalment, the data relates to the period from April 2019 to December 2020 – including economic and financial stats covering April 2019 to March 2020 (the 2019/20 financial year), survey data gathered from May to July 2020, and modelling conducted from August to October. The investment data analysis was conducted in January 2021 and covers the calendar year 2020.

Digital minister Matt Warman commented: “The need for cutting-edge cyber security has never been greater and this resilient sector is growing, diversifying and solidifying its status as a jewel in the UK’s tech crown.

“With more than 3,800 new jobs created, firms – large and small – are doing vital work keeping people and businesses secure online, so we can build back safer from the pandemic. I am committed to supporting the industry to reach new heights, create more jobs and lead new innovations in this field.”

The most active segments in the UK’s security sector include professional services, threat intelligence, monitoring, detection and analysis. There is also ongoing growth in the areas of industrial control systems (ICS) and internet of things (IoT) security.

For the first time, the study also found that more than half of cyber security firms are now found outside London and the South-East, with clusters flourishing in Scotland, Northern Ireland and North-West England.

DCMS said that with Covid-19 forcing businesses and social activity online, cyber firms had also stepped up to support the NHS through the pandemic with vital technical support – often delivered on a pro-bono basis – to protect it from malicious actors. Nine in 10 UK security companies said Covid-19 had impacted their businesses, but despite this, most were able to adjust and innovate their way around the problem.

Quorum Cyber, an Edinburgh-based managed security services provider (MSSP) and Microsoft specialist, was among those businesses, helping to strengthen cyber defences at NHS organisations and local councils during the pandemic.

Read more about security during Covid-19

The firm’s MD, Federico Charosky, said: “Quorum Cyber has been incredibly lucky to be in a position to help, both directly and indirectly. Whether it was through providing cyber security services to the public and private sector, including delivering security operation centre and incident response capabilities to local authorities and the NHS, or by hiring well over 25 people since the beginning of lockdown, including taking three graduate apprentices, Quorum Cyber continues to pursue our mission: we want to help good people win.”

SureCert, a recruitment technology firm that specialises in digital background checks, also played a role in helping deploy hundreds of new Covid-19 volunteers after winning an NHSX contest in May 2020.

“This competition provided funding for solutions that could find, background-check and deploy hundreds of volunteers to support vulnerable people in communities across Scotland and Northern Ireland,” said company founder and CEO Ian Savage. “SureCert focused on processing identity, reference and criminal record checks for volunteers, maximising trust during the pandemic.”

Although the cyber sector has come through the pandemic quite well, all things considered, the government said the government still recognised the importance of ensuring that small and medium-sized scaleups were supported to continue this growth – this in the light of much of last year’s security investment being dominated by large funding rounds, leaving many smaller firms facing an impending financial crunch.

It said a £1.25bn support package, and accelerator programmes such as those run by the London Office for Rapid Cyber security Advancement and the National Cyber Security Centre were going some way to filling the gap, while the DCMS-backed CyberASAP programme was supporting the commercialisation of security research coming out of UK universities.

TechUK CEO Julian David said: “Reliable cyber security is essential for all organisations as they accelerate digital transformation in the wake of ongoing Covid-19 disruption and the UK industry is responding to that need. This research shows a sector going from strength to strength, with increasing investment in our growing cyber ecosystem and, perhaps most significantly, uptake of the technologies and services keeping UK citizens and businesses safe.

“One key finding is that 54% of cyber companies are now based outside London and the South-East, an encouraging change that will improve cyber resilience across all the nations and regions of the UK, as well as sharing the economic prosperity offered by this fast-growing sector. This regional development is one area that TechUK will continue to actively partner with DCMS, through initiatives like Cyber Exchange, as government and industry continue to strengthen the UK’s position as a leading cyber nation.”

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