Technology is developing at such an unprecedented rate that, while we are beguiled into surfing the seductive waves of possibilities the latest gadgets or apps offer, there are sharks lurking in the water poised to use these same advances against us.
When it comes to foes, cyber criminals are perhaps the most formidable yet. They leave no fingerprints or DNA and are, to a certain extent, largely invisible.
With the rise of cyber crime, there may come a time when we look back nostalgically to the halcyon days when all we had to fear was a computer virus. Today, the scale of cyber crime ranges from individual identity theft to taking down a company's website at a stroke and state-sponsored activities such as the stuxnet computer worm that attacked Iran's nuclear facility.
The good news is that there are many specialist security services providers, including several in Scotland, working to come up with innovative solutions to combat cyber crime. However, the biggest danger is complacency. There are still too many companies that do not even have cyber security on their radar. They either do not have someone in charge of cyber security or, even if they have it on their risk register, raising awareness is one of the key challenges for Scotland.
Recognition that there could be a potential problem is just the first step. Unfortunately, prohibitive costs often prevent companies, particularly small and medium-sized ones, from undertaking security assessments of their systems. Many businesses also naively think their data is of no value. But there is huge value in areas such as intellectual property.
It is difficult, however, to gauge the extent of this type of industrial espionage. For example, companies may never discover if they lost out in a bid because their rivals hacked into their system and under-cut them, and those that do realise what has happened often do not want this information publicised. In the United States, it is a mandatory requirement to report intrusions as part of company procedures but this is not the case in the UK.
Scotland needs a forum that provides a safe place to share information. The hope is that the multi-agency partnership behind Scotland's first Cyber Security Camp at Glasgow Caledonian University this week will be the first step towards creating such a forum. It is impossible for just one organisation to tackle the cyber problem alone and the formidable partnership forged between the Scottish Government, Police Scotland, academia and industry to support this event is focused on drawing up and implementing a cyber security strategy for Scotland through the government's RABSCyber resilience group.
Scotland is a world leader in the games industry and there is no reason why we cannot replicate this success in cyber security. There is huge demand for graduates from Napier University's security and digital forensics-related courses. Even if the university tripled its output of graduates (at present 100 each year), it would still not be enough to meet industry demand. This is a common situation in other parts of the EU, not just Scotland. This means that, often, our best graduates leave Scotland to take up jobs with large companies, most of which are headquartered outside this country. We need to address this skills gap along with the gender gap. There is roughly only one women for every 10 men working in the field.
Scotland has the capacity and concentration of education focused on cyber security. If all interested parties can create the right environment to give industry the right push, there is no reason why we cannot become a world centre of excellence. Cyber security is a big issue but an even bigger opportunity for Scotland PLC.
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