Driving Innovation in Cybersecurity

GCHQ Launches Cybersecurity Accelerator with Wayra

Cybersecurity is a hot topic at the moment, and as the world gradually transforms into a digital society, commentators have been pushing the need to protect software left right and centre. Despite countless examples of damaging attacks, organisations from small businesses to international bodies have been slow on the uptake. However, as of 2018, new EU regulations will make organisations on all levels answerable to fines of up to $20 million. It looks like there’s a distinct ‘war on cybercrime’ mentality emerging, which is all well and good, but there’s another dimension to consider. Encouraging companies to set up defences against cyber criminals is important, but it’s equally (if not more) vital to actually gain an understanding of cyber technology. Earlier this month, the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) announced plans to do exactly that.

In partnership with startup accelerator Wayra and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the GCHQ has created a cybersecurity accelerator. The initiative will create two world-class innovation centres, as well as offering £5,000 in investment for U.K. cyber startups. But funding isn’t just being given away – startups will have to apply to be considered. This isn’t the first time that the government has shown an interest in cyber development – a string of high-profile attacks in 2015 first seemed to kick them into action. Telecommunications firm TalkTalk, for example, suffered an attack which cost the company over £30 million. The government’s reaction was to set up a ‘National Cyber Security Programme’, promising to invest almost £2 billion in cyber defence by 2020. The recent GCHQ initiative could be seen as a continuation of this policy, but perhaps the real motivation has come from the something else. According to GCHQ, the British government was recently the target of an unsuccessful cyber attack by a group of Russian hackers. They were called the Fancy Bears, and despite the playful name they were supposedly linked to the Russian state. Bearing that in mind, this is where things get interesting. Instead of investing in startups to reduce cyber threats, it looks like the GCHQ wants to be able to make them.

The disruptive angle
Identifying and nurturing cyber startups is going to have a number of consequences, namely leading to increased awareness of cybersecurity issues. This will lead to increased funding, which in turn will encourage development. GCHQ has set the ball rolling for the consolidation of U.K. talent, but it goes without saying that the U.K. isn’t the only country that will be investing in cybersecurity and research. This is something which will disrupt governments everywhere. Just this month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a statement lamenting the state of cybersecurity. The report charted 13 times more reported cyber attacks on federal agencies between 2006 and 2015. In fact, cyber criminals targeted the U.S. government over 77,000 times last year. GCHQ’s new venture is just one example of how leaders are adapting to respond to these threats, causing huge changes in government priorities. Efforts against cyber criminals are obviously needed, but it’s hard to believe that government powers would stop there. Basically, cyber threats will become a two-way street. This could mean the birth of a whole new platform for conflict, creating paranoia reminiscent of the Cold War years. Of course it isn’t all about politics – tighter controls on data accessibility are going to hit marketers hard. In the same week, both Google and Facebook have faced backlash against storing personal data. Google’s new messaging app Allo recorded user’s conversations without consent, and Facebook supposedly extracted data from WhatsApp to drive advertising. The digital availability of customer information has transformed sales, and it looks like it’s about to face further disruption.

The business perspective
It’s pretty clear by now that companies who are slack on cybersecurity are going to have to up their game. But what else is going to change for the business landscape? There’s been cybersecurity providers around for years, but government investment and public awareness will undoubtedly create a very competitive market. By making startups apply for investment, GCHQ could be seen as actively encouraging this. Overall, better data protection is both a help and a hindrance to companies. While businesses will want their own valuable data to be untouchable, they’ll feel very differently about the online information they can glean from potential customers. Advertisers will have to develop new ways to conduct market research, rather than prying on messaging apps. Government involvement with cyber technology may also encourage businesses to engage with and invest in new tech – and, importantly, take the time to properly protect it.

Ultimately, the time, money and effort spent by U.K. government agencies and Wayra is massively positive for the improvement of cybersecurity knowledge and products. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects that aren’t so positive. For instance, government involvement in cyber espionage is bound to create a platform for political tension. Businesses will also have to change the way they gather information (or risk looking as creepy as Facebook and Google). Either way, the initiative should be applauded for adapting to the challenges thrown up by the expansion of innovative technology. That’s how you deal with disruption – you make it work for you. Only time (and attempted cyber attacks) will tell how successful the U.K. government will be.

Will tight data protection controls transform marketing? Could improved cybersecurity change the way your company does business? Share your opinions and experiences.