The cyber sector can deliver jobs for underrepresented groups. (This article features in Prospect's cyber resilience supplement)by Jo Platt / August 28, 2019 / Leave a comment
The issue of Huawei’s involvement in our 5G telecoms network has prompted growing public curiosity about cybersecurity; the Chinese technology firm was even raised on the doorstep in my constituency a few weeks ago. We are all becoming more alert to the ways in which our lives are dependent on—and affected by—technology.
From household appliances connected to public 5G networks to states developing offensive cyber-capabilities, the world around us is changing—and so is the nature of the challenge faced by the government. Questions of privacy, integrity and safety become paramount. How can we secure our networks and take the country with us on that process?
There is much work to do. According to a cybersecurity study by insurance firm Hiscox, seven out of 10 organisations fail the readiness test. Meanwhile Cyber Essentials, the government-backed scheme to help organisations protect themselves, is yet to deliver the results we need.
As digital technology becomes increasingly intertwined with our critical national infrastructure, building a strong domestic cyber sector is an issue of genuine national significance.
Despite the scale of the challenge, and its implications for national security, the cyber question should be approached in a progressive and optimistic way. There is a great opportunity here to create jobs, rebuild industry and establish international leadership in a sector that will only continue to grow in size and importance over the coming years.
In this sense, Labour’s approach to cybersecurity should mirror its approach to the climate emergency. While the Tories are dragging their heels, insisting that proper action on climate change will be burdensome and costly, Labour has set out proposals for a Green Industrial Revolution to create thousands of new green jobs.
When it comes to cyber, however, we are already seeing the cost of inaction. One part of the Huawei scandal is that we are without a home-grown tech sector capable of manufacturing the infrastructure needed for 5G, in contrast with China, the US and Scandinavia.
The government estimates that 54 per cent of all businesses and charities have a basic technical cybersecurity skills gap. Reducing this will require the expansion of cyber education and training.
This must deliver much-needed secure, skilled and well-paid employment. But we also have a duty to ensure the cyber sector is as diverse as possible. While the government points to its school competitions and Cyber First programme, a House of Commons committee found these efforts far from successful—and was struck by an apparent lack of urgency.
Women currently make up just 11 per cent of the global cyber workforce. We must commit to break down the many barriers to entry women face.
“Women make up just 11 per cent of the cyber security workforce”
The growth of the cyber sector presents enormous opportunities to those underrepresented in the labour market. For example, BT recently told the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy that some of their best cyber specialists were those with neurodiverse conditions such as autism and ADHD.
Cyber specialists have extreme logical skills and different methods of thinking to resolve problems—the role becomes a natural fit for many within the neurodiverse community. But with only 16 per cent of those with neurodiverse conditions in stable, full-time work, we must do more to open up employment opportunities.
Another vital consideration is where across the UK we help cyber industry to thrive. We must seriously consider our post-industrial towns as the natural home for the economies of the future. Areas of the country still reeling from the collapse of the last industrial revolution must be assisted to play their part in the birth of the next. Cyber will be at the heart of that.
Labour’s plan for regional development banks is a step in this direction, and runs counter to the Tory strategy of de-investment. Indeed, since 2009/10 total public spending in the north, where my constituency is, has fallen by £6.3bn in real terms—more than for any other region.
More broadly, the public sector must play an active role if our cyber sector is to thrive. When it comes to central government, I have previously advocated for a minister specifically for cybersecurity, to provide cross-departmental co-operation with industry that the National Audit Office and Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy have identified as lacking.
These are just a few of the ways that we can begin to embrace the cyber challenge, one that is too often framed in narrow terms and disconnected from questions of education, investment and economic regeneration. We must support emerging industries, putting the UK ahead of the curve, enhancing security for all and creating opportunity for communities too often overlooked.
This piece features in Prospect’s new cyber resilience supplement