Can Belfast Become The Cyber Security Capital Of Europe?

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As the world forges a path into a digital future, Belfast is aiming to become a European hub for cyber security startups as it hosts AppSec EU 2017, one of Europe’s largest gatherings of cyber security professionals.

Best known as a historical centre for industries such as linen, rope-making and shipbuilding, Belfast’s past as an economic powerhouse and a shipping link to Great Britain, Europe, and North America is rooted in the banks of Belfast Lough.

It is in the area surrounding the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard where the Titanic was built that Belfast is now building a technology sector that is breaking ground, creating jobs and forging a bright future for the city.

Where shipyard workers once lived in purpose-built small terrace houses in the east of the city, many of these homes are now occupied by young professionals and budding entrepreneurs that are growth-hacking the cyber security sector, developing a new flagship industry for Northern Ireland.

The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is a voluntary organisation that bands together cyber security professionals across the world. Its Belfast chapter is one of the largest in Europe with over 700 members and it is bringing around 1000 of Europe’s brightest and best to the AppSec EU conference to Belfast in May.

FDI Supporting Enterprise

The Northern Irish cyber security scene has been bolstered in recent years by foreign direct investment, primarily from the United States. Industry mainstays such as Black Duck Software who have committed to create 60 jobs in the city, WhiteHat Security, Rapid 7, Proofpoint and Alert Logic all have a presence in the city and are bringing with them hundreds of jobs.

Gary Robinson, co-founder of OWASP Belfast commented “There is currently 100% employment in the cyber security sector here in Northern Ireland. Job roles such as security engineers, penetration testers, and security architects are in high demand and people with the right qualifications and experience can write their own ticket with global employers and indigenous companies alike.”

The education sector is catching on too with a Master’s degree in Cyber Security available in the city, and an abundance of placement opportunities and industry meetups available, creating a strong community of specialists. The community, supported by the influx of these multi-nationals, is also helping local entrepreneurs to find opportunities in the sector.

An early Belfast-based email security startup MailDistiller was acquired in 2013 by California-based Proofpoint, showing faith in the startup scene as an asset, and following up with a plan to create close to 100 jobs in the sector shortly after.

The abundance of established firms investing from overseas in the Belfast talent pool is just one side of the coin. Northern Ireland has also established a research and education hub for the cyber security industry.

World Class Research & Venture Creation

Queen’s University Belfast is home to CSIT, the Centre for Secure Information Technologies. Based just a few metres from the Titanic slipways, it is the UK’s Innovation & Knowledge Centre for secure information technologies and is a GCHQ accredited Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Research.

CSIT’s 40 cyber security PhD students are achieving world-class research, new value and venture creation in the field. It is this venture creation and the centre’s entrepreneurial approach to cyber security that is at the core of Belfast’s startup scene.

Focusing its research on the needs of the industry, CSIT sets mission-like goals that are ultimately leading to spin-out enterprises and FDI attraction. CSIT has played a role in the attraction of over 100 high-tech foreign investments and startups.

The Indigenous Ecosystem

The group of indigenous cyber security companies in Belfast is continuing to expand.

Some of the most successful of these include Repknight, winner of the ADS Security Innovation Award, B-Secur, a Gartner Cool Vendor in 2016, SaltDNA, which is backed by the tech investment arm of Atlas Venture and Titan IC which is supported by local funds Invest NI, TechStart NI and QUBIS.

The current conditions in Belfast are bringing together the power of multi-national cyber-security firms with the tenacity of the city’s specialised entrepreneurs and the raw talent of graduates coming through each year through the strong education system to create a bustling ecosystem of cyber security professionals driving the city towards a bright future.

This bright future will be showcased to delegates at AppSec EU 2017 when 1000 European cyber security professionals will see the opportunities presented by the city, and what many believe will become Europe’s capital city for cyber security.



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Photo credit: perspec_photo88 via Visual Hunt / CC BY-SA