As far as technology is concerned, Ireland is in a good space thanks to the concentration of major multinational companies and startups that are located here. Yet more can be done to focus Ireland’s work in the area and have everyone following the same roadmap.
The recent launch of Cyber Ireland aims to achieve this by bringing together industry, academia and government to create a national cybersecurity cluster. The cluster itself will be in Cork IT and will enhance innovation, growth and competitiveness of both regions and companies that are part of it.
Jacky Fox, the vice-chair of Cyber Ireland, said the idea came about in 2017 through an industry call to provide a collective voice to address the needs of the sector across the country.
“There are a lot of successful cybersecurity companies operating in Ireland and how could we capitalise on that success,” she said. “To ensure that we got our fair share . . . that might be coming into the European market, jobs and skills that are on offer.
“There was an agreement by the government that they would invest in cybersecurity cluster. Cork IT was selected as the hub for the cluster, but it is a national cluster. So then plans were put in place to select a board of people who would be proactive and get them from the three different areas: academia, government and industry. Where we could all work together and look at what the needs of the country were in order to develop this or give it every opportunity to succeed in Ireland. And so that was the basic idea of us.”
Fox believes that Ireland is in a great position to make something like this work. As well as having a well-educated workforce – more than 6,000 people are employed in cybersecurity in Ireland – the country also has a great tradition in technology thanks to its relationship with the US and the work the IDA has done in attracting major companies like Dell, Intel and Microsoft to the country.
That wealth of expertise, both in hardware and software, is important for its success. But an area that might not be immediately considered, yet is hugely important, is the policy side of things, which can be “quite complicated to negotiate”, according to Fox.
“There are many different aspects where our political status in Ireland leaves us well positioned to do this,” she said. “We’re part of the EU, we’re English-speaking, we have a good relationship with the US and with Britain. We’re in a good position from a political perspective as well to do this.
“Geographically. we’re quite small, so people can meet each other and see each other face-to-face, and there are a lot of people who are interested in making this happen and making it work.”
Much of the effort isn’t just about retaining and protecting the industry already here, but making sure that those who do come over want to stay in Ireland.
The other element of it is education. There’s no point creating courses for the sake of creating them; instead Cyber Ireland is looking at the ‘before and after learning’, making sure there’s a follow-through as well as different pathways for those who train.
The skill shortage in the cybersecurity industry is well documented at this point but the aim isn’t to just fill the roles, it’s to provide ways for people to get their foot on the ladder and the ability to progress.
All of this requires buy-in and communication between the three major stakeholders – government, industry and academia – for it to work.
“We also need people who can start at entry-level cybersecurity jobs that we can then train . . . and then allow them to have a pathway to get through and do more advanced jobs,” Fox explained.
“Getting the education and the skills training right really does require policy that comes from the government, the academic institutes to get on board with what’s required and industry to hold up their hand and say: ‘This is what we actually want’.
“So it takes the three of those together to actually work on the skill shortage, and then the policy element for the government to support it and make sure that you know the courses are going to be there.”
While it’s still early days, Fox said the level of support and enthusiasm towards the initiative had been “phenomenal”. The whole purpose is to put Ireland on a better footing with regards to cybersecurity and from that, the recent launch saw people from the community asking what they can do to help and support the initiative.
While Cyber Ireland will be reaching out to organisations who are based in cybersecurity, Fox urged any person or organisation who works in the area to reach out to them as their support and feedback is invaluable.
“We would like to appeal to people who are in this area to get on board and to get in touch with us to both tell us what we can do to help them or what they think they can do to help Ireland Inc,” she said. “We will be connecting with most organisations have something to do with cyber, no matter where they’re from. People would give us their time and invest in this kind of bidirectional [approach] so that we can make the whole thing successful.”
The opportunity is there, says Fox, for Ireland to embrace these challenges and work together to make the cybersecurity industry here greater than the sum of its parts.
“The moment is now,” she said. “We have some good academic courses set up in the country, we have the backing of the government, and we also have 90-odd cybersecurity firms who are already cooperating, be that with professional services, R&D or manufacturing. There is a huge variety of skills in here.
“By calling out any of the challenges we have, and putting a body in place to address those challenges, I think we’ve got a fantastic opportunity. We could be the hub of cyber in Europe if we do the right things.”