Joining forces against the cyber threat
Protecting computer systems from attack has never been more important. Wales is a place where cyber security firms can thrive, with a growing tech ecosystem, forward-thinking universities and active networking groups such as the Cyber Wales clusters.
Friendly, open and collaborative, with Welsh cakes for all: a typical Cyber Wales meeting is not how most people would picture the supposedly secretive cyber security industry. But according to John Davies, director of Pervade Software and co-founder of the Cyber Wales cluster, this kind of informal collaboration is essential to take the sector forward.
“As a nation, we’re very collaborative,” he says. “We do things for a cause, to help each other and for the good of the wider community. The cyber threat is huge and growing every day. If we do not all work together to share knowledge, learn from each other and find new ways to fight cyber attacks, we won’t be able to combat it.”
In 2014, Davies established Cyber Wales with Dr Cerian Jones, partner at law firm UDL. Both felt that representatives of cyber security teams should have a forum in which they could discuss industry issues face to face. It began life as the South Wales Cyber Security Cluster, a monthly meet-up for anyone involved in cyber security to get together and chat. Specialists such as Wolfberry Cyber soon joined to help drive the idea forward.
The idea grew rapidly. The following year saw the start of the North Wales Cyber Security Cluster, founded by Jason Davies of Hashtag Cyber in Wrexham. He says: “It got to the point where we couldn’t fit everyone who wanted to attend in the car to go down south, so we formed our own cluster."
This was followed by subject-specific clusters dealing with GDPR, IP Protection and Women in Cyber. The latest addition is an Education and Training cluster. All the groups are now included under the Cyber Wales umbrella.
Cyber Wales has two main aims: to share information and to encourage growth. To fulfil the first of these, Davies says he gathers and shares “bucketloads” of information and guidance from the National Cyber Security Centre at GCHQ, the UK Government, trade associations and the 19 other cyber clusters in the UK.
“I want all cyber companies to grow and develop their capabilities,” says Davies. “It’s not about competition, as we have such a massive range of jobs and skill sets – from hardcore code-writing to hardware and software products, and from governance to training. We have a tiny amount of competitive overlap and a huge range of complimentary tech, products and services.”
In just five years, Cyber Wales can point to numerous real-world successes. Six new limited companies have grown out of members coming together at meetings and deciding to start joint ventures. It’s helping inward investment, too: in 2017, Cyber Wales was invited to become one of just 14 founding members of GlobalEPIC, an “ecosystem of ecosystems” that includes MIT in the United States, the Hague Security Delta in the Netherlands and CyberSpark, the Israeli Cyber Innovation Arena.
As an example of how this global collaboration works, each country’s ecosystem undertakes to provide a “soft landing” to help any other members who want to set up businesses in a different country – such as advice, desk space and introductions to key players. Already, cyber businesses from Israel and the UAE have used the programme to establish a presence in Wales.
This success, says Davies, means businesses are realising that they don’t need to go to London to find their cyber security experts. “If you’re a business in Wales, you’ve got 700 organisations that can help you with your cyber challenges. That's very reassuring. So when you need more staff, you can trawl the market and say to up-and-coming cyber people: come to Wales.”
The Welsh Government has been proactive in spreading the word about Cyber Wales, letting businesses across the world know about our local expertise. What’s more, members have been given all the help they need to take part in large expos such as InfoSec, where they can talk to global cyber companies and showcase what they have to offer.
To ensure a steady stream of expertise, Cyber Wales is working to develop a talent pipeline in collaboration with specialist institutes. These include the National Cyber Security Academy at the University of South Wales – which relies on small cyber companies coming up with real-world challenges for students to provide invaluable experience – as well as Cardiff University’s Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Analytics, Swansea University’s new Computational Foundry and Glyndŵr University’s Cyber Programmes. Members are also sharing their expertise as lecturers on Cardiff Metropolitan University’s new cyber courses.
A delegation will shortly be heading to Japan to help set up that country’s first ever cyber cluster. It’s evidence of the Cyber Wales network’s global ambitions – something that’s entirely down to the goodwill and hard work of the members who have pushed the idea forward. “All these clusters are entirely voluntary,” adds John Davies. “So many people have stepped up and said: ‘Someone needs to do this – it might as well be us. Let’s collaborate and help each other to grow our businesses, and make Wales a globally recognised hub for cyber security expertise.”