Cybercrime is a growing threat but preventing it creates a real opportunity for Scotland's economy – Scotsman comment

The theft of thousands of online files from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) – and subsequent publication after an unsuccessful attempt at blackmail – is yet another demonstration about the ability of cyber-crime gangs to disrupt our increasingly online way of life.
The demand for cyber-security measures is only going to increase (Picture: Shutterstock)The demand for cyber-security measures is only going to increase (Picture: Shutterstock)
The demand for cyber-security measures is only going to increase (Picture: Shutterstock)

Quite right, Sepa said it was not prepared to use public money to pay “serious and organised criminals intent on disrupting public services and extorting public funds”.

The agency may face some criticism over the hack, but we should remember that it is a victim of crime. No one would suggest the victim of a house-breaking was to blame for the loss of their property.

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That said, it is clear many organisations and individuals need to pay much closer attention to cyber security. Criminals are not, after all, the only threat, as demonstrated by the actions of Russia, China and other states hostile to democracy which have helped to persuade some that the world has entered a new Cold War.

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Ensuring we have effective systems to defend ourselves from online attacks is therefore as much about securing our freedoms as our wealth and data.

With the stakes so high, there is already a degree of state involvement and international co-operation in identifying threats and ways to stop them. It is a growing focus of Nato, which has recognised “cyberspace as a domain of operations” since 2016 and warns that attacks are “becoming more frequent, complex, destructive and coercive”.

But, as is often the case, this threat creates an opportunity.

Partly because of its significant financial sector, Scotland has been developing a cyber security industry for some time and should continue to do so – although growth will be dependant on a steady supply of pupils and graduates with the relevant qualifications, once again underlining the importance of science and maths at school.

It is obvious that as life moves increasingly online, so will criminals. Scotland needs to ensure its government, companies, charities and people are better protected in what will be a technological arms race between the crooks and the forces of law and order, but should also jump at the chance to build what could be a major industry.

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