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NCSC startups scheme turns focus to operational technology, SME security

NCSC for Startups initiative turns its focus to supporting innovation around securing operational technology and addressing the challenges facing small businesses

The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) and its partner innovation specialist, Plexal, have made addressing the security challenges facing operational technology (OT) environments and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) the focus of the next phase of their NCSC for Startups initiative.

The partners are calling for innovators to step forward and apply for the programme, which provides support and assistance to companies developing, adapting and piloting new security products and services.

“The NCSC’s mission is to make the UK the safest place to live and do business online, which means providing support and expertise across a whole range of areas,” said Chris Ensor, deputy director for cyber growth at the NCSC.

“Startups have a big role to play in this, and I’d strongly encourage those with ideas for protecting operational technology, SMEs and digital citizens to apply to NCSC for Startups and benefit from leading experts in cyber security.”

Saj Huq, chief commercial officer and head of innovation at Plexal, added: “Increasing cyber risks, together with the insecure adoption of emerging technologies across society, could diminish economic growth, threaten online safety and erode public trust.

“The UK’s future prosperity hinges on the need to build cyber resilience across all sections of our economy, within all layers of our supply chains and across all aspects of our critical infrastructure. NCSC For Startups provides a unique platform for mission-orientated innovators to address these needs and unlock numerous market opportunities.”

The NCSC said it was critical to protect highly available OT environments, particularly in situations where internet-controlled systems have been added to legacy setups, because cyber attacks on industries that depend on it can have serious consequences – potentially even lethal ones.

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The partners are looking in particular for businesses that have ideas on how to unlock the benefits of Industry 4.0 – such as improved productivity and sustainability – without increasing the risk profile that they face.

Meanwhile, a proliferation of cyber attacks against SMEs and private individuals is “coming at the worst time”, as overarching trends such as rising energy costs, soaring inflation and understaffing combine to render both businesses and individuals particularly vulnerable.

To this end, the programme is scouting for new ideas to help these groups in areas such as effective implementation of cyber hygiene best practice, incident response, and improved cyber training and behaviour change.

A number of startups have already moved through the programme since its launch in the summer of 2021 as a successor to the NCSC Cyber Accelerator, and the scheme is currently supporting a cohort of five innovators specialising in ransomware.

As before, successful applicants will move through either a three-month intensive programme, or a 12-month programme committing a minimum of two days per month, hosted at the NCSC’s Cheltenham innovation hub.

They will receive support in areas such as securing investment, marketing, connections to potential buyers in the private sector, and product development support, as well as access to the NCSC’s world-leading experts and insights.

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