Government to ramp up help for UK cyber security industry

Government, in partnership with industry, is pursuing a range of initiatives aimed at establishing a UK cyber security ecosystem, developing skills and products and boosting exports, says DIT’s Conrad Prince

The UK government plans a range of interventions to grow the domestic cyber security industry, according to Conrad Prince, cyber security ambassador at the Department for International Trade.

“The UK has over a thousand cyber security companies, but we need that industry to grow,” he told the CyberUK conference in Liverpool convened by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

The government is particularly keen to see the many small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and startups grow in the medium to large companies on the international scene.

“We’ve got fantastic innovation in the UK, but we need to encourage and commercialise more of that by helping turn that innovation into products and services,” said Prince.

“In 2016, we exported about £1.8bn worth of cyber security products and services, but we want to export even more,” he said.

“We have a focused effort in the Department for International Trade to support UK exporters, with a range of envoys overseas, a London-based team and a network of people working out of UK embassies across the globe to support the UK cyber security industry.”

There is a huge amount of activity in industry, universities and the wider academic community, said Prince, helping to build the cyber security ecosystem that the UK needs.

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As part of this effort, the government is developing two innovation centres. One in Cheltenham, which is already helping SMEs develop products and another planned for London to work in partnership with industry to help and grow cyber security SMEs.

Prince said the government is also working with UK universities to commercialise some of the leading academic research in cyber security by helping to fund the development of concept demonstrators to turn more of those ideas into marketable products.

SME bootcamps

To further the aim of helping SMEs to develop the wider skills they need to develop and flourish in industry, the government is setting up “SME bootcamps” with industry partners to provide advice and support.

“We are looking to get about 100 SMEs through these bootcamps across the country in 2018 to help build their skills and broader commercial expertise,” said Prince.

In addition to the bootcamps, government is introducing a programme to identify cyber security SMEs that have the potential to grow into large companies.

“Again working with colleagues in industry who really understand how this works, this programme will be aimed at helping SMEs on their growth journey and support them throughout to see them become bigger, stronger, more powerful cyber companies,” said Prince.

As part of this programme, Prince said he is looking at how government can work with venture capitalists and others to inject some additional funding into innovation.

Meeting the demand for skills

Alongside that, he said government is pursuing several issues to meet the growing demand for people with cyber security skills.

“We have a significant shortage of these skills globally and in the UK,” said Prince, and to build on the “fantastic work” that GCHQ and the NCSC is doing in this regard, the government is launching a major skills programme for schools to identify students aged 14 and upwards with an aptitude for IT and cyber security to help them develop their skills and get them into the education and employment pipeline.

“We are looking to get 5,000 students involved in this programme by 2021 to help address the skills gap in a fundamental way,” he said. “We are developing cyber apprenticeships working with some critical national infrastructure suppliers, and we are investing in ways to re-train individuals mid-career who are looking to move into cyber security and need some help training in the basic skills associated with that.”

Alongside all of this, said Prince, is the work being done by GCHQ and NCSC with academia, including the setting up of 13 centres of academic excellence, funding doctorates, certifying masters degrees, and setting up three research institutes with a fourth on the way.

“We will continue to focus and invest in this really critical part in making the UK cyber security ecosystem powerful and world-leading,” he said.

In closing, Prince said the government will look at the full range of policy interventions it can make to achieve this and make the UK the safest place to do business online.

“We will be looking at things like ‘secure by default’, which is another significant focus of work for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport working with NCSC as a core part of efforts to secure the internet of things looking forward.”

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