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Ben Brabyn

Head of Level39

“How do we prepare for next-gen cyber attacks?”

Ben Brabyn was appointed as the new head of fintech and cyber startup space Level39 in February this year

In recent years, businesses across all sectors have ramped up their efforts on cyber security.

We have seen Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak compare the fear of cyber attacks to that of the atom bomb.

European ministers have now formally adopted legislation that will see digital service providers and essential services operators forced to take measures to manage risks to their networks.

Even the Association of British Insurers has called for a central database of cyber attack information in the UK to help better assess cyber risk.

This rising focus within the tech industry comes as little surprise when you consider the recent spate of cyber attacks being faced by large corporations. This was showcased recently by HSBC, which suffered a massive attack on its online banking services in January this year.

A report released by the UK government last month suggested that 65 per cent of large businesses fell victim to a cyber attack or breach in the past year, with 25 per cent experiencing a breach at least once a month.

This vulnerability is intensified by the evolution of cyber attackers’ tactics, which continue to change at pace with new techniques and technologies of their own.

This was demonstrated on a mammoth scale in February when hackers attacked Bangladesh’s central bank and stole $81m. This was done by subverting the SWIFT transaction network and then transferring cash from the bank’s account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to other locations.

Typically bank hacks have seen attackers steal the personal details of bank account holders, but this was an attack on a much grander scale.   

But, as they say, with great challenges come great opportunities.

The UK government has announced £1.9bn investment into cyber security over the next five years in an effort to ensure increased protection of UK businesses and consumers, providing much-needed support for this crucial sector.

(ISC)2 — a global non-profit specialising in educating and certifying cyber, information, software and infrastructure security professionals — recently announced that the global shortfall of skilled workers in the cyber security sector is due to rise to 1.5m by 2020, as demand for solutions rises in response to the increased volume of attacks.

Careers in cyber

In order to fuel innovation in this important sector, it is critical that we continue to support the needs of entrepreneurs and young startups during their early stages of development. It is these disruptors that are currently leading the charge on providing security solutions to the rising wave of cyber attackers.

This process often begins during the education system and leading institutions are becoming ever more aware of the need to prepare their students for the rapidly changing tech industry by providing access to real-life business situations as an integral part of the curriculum.

A prime example of this is at UCL, where the university is preparing to base its New School of Management postgraduate programme on the 38th floor of the Canary Wharf tower, One Canada Square.

The postgraduate programme will focus on innovation, technology, management, analytics and entrepreneurship, with students able to benefit from close proximity to Canary Wharf Group’s tech accelerator Level39 on the floor above, and access to major industry players based at Canary Wharf and across East London.

For those seeking a career in cybersecurity, a dedicated qualification equivalent to an AS Level is now available. The qualification is open to existing students but also distance learners, incorporating all areas of cybersecurity from risk management to digital forensics.

So, plans are starting to be put in place to help support the next generation of cybersecurity specialists, but what can we do to address cyber challenges right now?

The importance of clustering

Unsurprisingly, there are a growing number of startups focusing on compliance and surveillance processes. At Level39, we have 17 member companies working in the cyber security space, making it the largest cluster in London. This ranges from security management, like that from fast-growth opsec provider Digital Shadows, along with innovative personal verification systems and companies using big data analytics to identify potential threats.

Focusing again on the banking industry, it is a competitive market, but in the face of a rise in cyber attacks, there is a strong case for closer relationships to be formed between cyber innovators and financial services — a knowledge-sharing ecosystem on a grand scale.

For effective solutions to be developed, these two industries must work together in a fully integrated way, sharing their industry expertise and real-time data to produce agile and resilient products that will help the UK fight cyber crime.