UKTI: exporting UK cyber skills

cybersecurity pic (generic)In this feature, UKTI DSO International Cyber Director Ian R Mabbott talks to MOD DCB features writer Julie Shennan about UK Trade & Investment’s work exporting cyber skills, attracting inward investment and supporting intelligent systems.

UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) International Cyber Director Ian R Mabbott has worked for UK Government in the intelligence, law enforcement and cyber security arenas for 34 years. He also spent three years at BAE Systems as a director in BAE’s international business unit. Over his career, Mr Mabbott has managed a large upgrade of UK intelligence capabilities, some of them pioneering policy development or standards.

Mr Mabbott said: “As International Cyber Director I am responsible for helping UK industry promote its cyber-security capabilities, such as goods, services and training, around the world. At UKTI we are also very interested in attracting inward investment opportunities; so we are looking at countries and organisations that want to invest in the UK. The UK is attractive being a relatively secure and stable environment.”

One of the ways UKTI aims to promote exports is by working with the Cyber Growth Partnership (a partnership of industry, academia and government). As well as exports, the CGP promotes cyber skills, research and innovation at home with the objective of making the UK one of the safest places to do business online.

Mr Mabbott added: “We are now working on a cyber security showcase, which will give an impartial view of UK cyber security capabilities, and attempt to answer the many queries that we get in UKTI about the quality of UK capability. We want to develop this showcase to also be a virtual guide that can be accessed worldwide.” Worldwide connections are also being forged through UKTI trade missions. These events take UK suppliers abroad to showcase their cyber goods and services, encouraging their export.

Mr Mabbott explained: “At UKTI we have been organising various events as a way of helping UK companies increase their profile around the world; for example we are taking companies to exhibit at the RSA Cyber Security Conference in San Francisco next year.  “UKTI is taking space to showcase a small number of UK companies at RSA, which really is one of the best cyber exhibitions and conferences in the world. This gives the companies an opportunity they would not have had on their own.” 

Cyber security opportunities are growing at an impressive rate, with the global market expected to double in size over the next three to four years. Realising this potential, UK Government has set a cyber security export target of £2 billion by 2016, and is on track to meet it, having reached just over £1 billion last year. Contributing toward this success is the increasing market for intelligent systems; machines with an embedded, internet-connected computer that has the capacity to gather and analyse data and communicate with other systems. The UK’s strength in this domain is based on its world-class skills in electronics, computing and software; capabilities that depend on the best use of emerging technologies in both civil and defence sectors.

Mr Mabbott commented: “There is a lot of intelligent systems export opportunities; it is quite a broad field and what we have in the UK is a lot of companies who are specialising in innovating new solutions. As intelligent systems grow, cyber companies must keep up to date with their new technology. “Especially in cyber defence, you cannot just buy a product, you often require the right skills and must keep evolving the capability to stay on top of developments in the threat landscape. This innovation cycle means that intelligent system providers will need to keep developing their approaches and supplying them to industry and government buyers, to ensure products remain secure.”

Further adding to security challenges is the growing phenomenon of the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT)– the interconnection of uniquely identifiable embedded computing devices within the existing internet infrastructure.

Mr Mabbott explained: “The Internet of Things provides massive economic benefits to intelligent systems, through things like increasing numbers of sensors, data processing capabilities and data itself. So this can be used in intelligent systems to enrich products and services. “However, the difficulty that lies with increased connection of devices through the IoT is that you are running an increased security risk, so that is something cyber security experts are developing capability to counter.” Countering such online threats and promoting business overseas are two core aims of the Cyber Growth Partnership, working in conjunction with UKTI to expand UK firms’ reach.

Mr Mabbott concluded: Many SMEs just don’t have the profile or budget to penetrate overseas markets themselves, but one of the ways they can mitigate this is through partnerships and getting broader access; so UKTI is working to catalyse these partnerships. At UKTI we have noticed a shift in attitude across the cyber security sector, where companies have more trust in collaborative ventures.”

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