Cybersecurity: driving the need for ongoing research and innovation in Scotland

The growth of digital technologies has had a transformative effect, both on the way business is conducted and on our leisure time and social lives. Recent research by ekosgen on the Digital Technologies sector in Scotland found that in the period to 2024 it is forecast to be the fastest growing sector in Scotland, with a projected growth rate over double that of the Scottish economy as a whole.

The advancement of digital technologies offers many new opportunities for growing innovation and productivity, but increased reliance and use of computers to hold data also poses a real threat and a number of security risks. This has been very much exposed recently with a high profile attack on the NHS in May of this year leading to a lock down of computer systems that badly affected the health service; while a cyberattack on TalkTalk in October 2015 resulted in nearly 157,000 customers having data breached.

In response to the threat of cyberattacks there is a growing cyber security industry including the public sector, private sector and education providers. Security services and businesses have adapted to developing technology and include teams able to respond to and prevent cyberattacks. In 2016 the UK government announced plans for £1.9 billion of investment into the cyber security industry to help advance development and increase the pipeline of talent moving in to the industry. 

An important part of this development is the network of 14 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), which are recognised as Academic Centres of Excellence in Cybersecurity Research. These institutions provide vital research on cyber security innovation, which is particularly important as the speed of technological change means ever evolving and more complex cyberattacks that require new forms of defence. HEIs are also important for providing teaching of cyber security, this is increasingly available at undergraduate level, often as part of wider computer science degrees, and is more widely available as a specialised degree at postgraduate level. PhD students are also important for new research and the development of a wider pool of cyber security experts.

In Scotland specifically there have been recent developments as the University of Edinburgh has been recognised as one of the Academic Centres of Excellence in Cybersecurity Research and Abertay University also offers the only Ethical Hacking Masters programme in the UK.

Looking forward it will be increasingly important for HEIs and academics to work with the public sector and industry.  This will help to ensure that the cyber security sector continues to develop and innovate, and the necessary skills are developed and retained in Scotland.  This is critical to make sure that the sector can respond to and protect against the ever evolving threat of cyberattacks.

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