Edinburgh leading world in beating online crime

Many companies are expanding their cyber security activities. Picture: Craig Stephen

Many companies are expanding their cyber security activities. Picture: Craig Stephen

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Cyber security surges ahead in the capital, says Bill Buchanan

As we become more dependent on the internet by the day, the risks around it also increase, especially from cyber crime, large-scale data loss and the failure of our critical IT infrastructure. The recent case of the Sony hack highlights the problems companies might face if they are targeted by malicious agents, which in Sony’s case included the loss of millions of documents, movies, and sensitive e-mails.

Imagine, too, if all the banks in the UK decided to send out new credit cards to all their customers, but they were all lost in the post, and all the details ended up for sale online. Well, the recently discovered Home Depot hack had a similar scope, where at least 56 million card details were compromised from its 2,200 stores in the United States. Intruders had installed malware at the point-of-sale, in order to gather customer data from their cash registers.

Many current risks, too, occur around sloppy coding, such as when intruders injected malicious code into websites, and gained access to more than 1.2 billion user names and passwords. Also at risk is our critical infrastructure, which was highlighted when researchers at the University of Michigan managed to use a laptop and off-the-shelf radio transmitter to break into and control more than 100 traffic light signals in Michigan City.

Alongside all these risks, though, there are opportunities, and Edinburgh is a city that is building its industry around the Information Age, especially in software development and cyber security.

There is so much going on. With companies such as Dell Secureworks, ECS, Farrpoint, 7Layer, Zonefox, NCC Group, Payfont and miiCard, we can start to see the development of a world-leading cyber security infrastructure. These companies often thrive as the city provides opportunities to help customers with computer security, such as the financial sector.

With many companies expanding their cyber security activities, the demand for graduates with related skills also increases, and it is important all key stakeholders work together to provide a collaborative environment which maximises the opportunities for the city.

So, on Wednesday, Edinburgh Napier University launched an international Cyber Academy building on existing EU-funded work, and aiming to integrate industry, academia, law enforcement and the public sector, addressing a skills gap and supporting a pipeline for innovation and enterprise.

The Cyber Academy will host a virtualised environment for students and professionals to learn how to secure systems, respond to security events and investigate them after the event. It also aims to credit rate training into academic infrastructures, such as against the GCHQ-certified MSc in Advanced Security and Digital Forensics, and for college/SQA/undergraduate integration, to create a coherent curriculum for cyber Security education.

Edinburgh is a place which can attract people from around the world, and which inspires people to make their contribution to this great city. It has an amazing eco-system for computer security, having a strong academic base, excellent access to law enforcement, a strong finance sector, and a strong SME culture, with fairly extensive innovation support from Scottish Enterprise.

One thing that should not be forgotten is that it is Edinburgh’s financial base which allows many security companies to develop their ideas and vision by sharing expertise. Cyber security is a key focus for many companies in the finance sector, so the demand should increase, and we should have even greater opportunities to scale this on an international basis.

So the lead the city has in this cyber age is being showcased with the creation of the Cyber Academy. Its launch is supported by many leading companies in cyber security, along with the NCA and Police Scotland. Its aim is to bring together industry, academia, law enforcement and the public sector, in order to support cyber security education, innovation and research.

With the increasing demands for cyber security graduates, it is important each key stakeholder comes together to gain benefits for both the economy and for the protection of our industry and public sector.

So, in the shadow of Edinburgh’s greats, including James Clerk Maxwell and John Napier, we see the birth of new industries which are building the foundations of the future. This time they are virtual foundations, but laid on the foundations that our city fathers have created for us.

Professor Bill Buchanan is part of the School of Computing, at Edinburgh Napier University

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