Business

Attack and defence of cyber crime on the rise in Northern Ireland

Cyber-crime is costing the Northern Ireland economy an estimated £100 million a year
Andrew Madden

NORTHERN Ireland is fast becoming the cyber-crime capital of Europe - for both positive and negative reasons.

With cyber-crime costing the region's economy an estimated £100 million a year, firms focusing on online protection from fraudsters have increased in response, leading to a huge investment and bringing with it scores of jobs.

Last year Belfast was the top destination in Europe for US foreign direct investment in cyber security, with international companies including Black Duck Software, WhiteHat Security, Rapid 7, Proofpoint and Alert Logic establishing operations around the city.

There is also a group of growing indigenous firms, including includes Repknight, B-Secur and SaltDNA (which is backed by the tech investment arm of Atlas Venture).

On the flip side, recent government research revealed that seven out of 10 large businesses were hit by a cyber-breach or attack in 2016, but only half of all firms have taken any recommended actions to identify and address vulnerabilities.

Even fewer, around a third, had formal written cyber security policies and only 10 per cent had a management plan in place in the event of an online attack.

Earlier this month, Belfast law firm Cleaver Fulton Rankin became the first legal practice in the city to set up a specialist cyber risk unit aimed at tackling online fraud.

In May, Belfast is also set to host one of the world's largest cyber-security conventions: the OWASP AppSecEU Conference.

Held previously in Rome, Amsterdam and Athens, the event will feature talk from industry experts, training sessions, and "ethical hacking" competitions. 800 delegates from around the world are expected to attend the seminar.

The Belfast chapter of OWASP - the Open Web Application Security Project – is one of the biggest in Europe, with more than 100 people regularly attending its sessions.

Gary Robinson, co-founder of the OWASP Belfast branch said the news "reflects Belfast's status as a rising star as a worldwide cyber security centre."

"Other cities have larger tech industries but if we in Northern Ireland concentrate our focus on cyber security there's no reason not to believe Belfast's enviable talent pool and the blend of local and global companies can make it the cyber security capital of Europe."

"Belfast has reinvented itself over the past 20 years and while it might not compete with London and Berlin in all areas of the tech sector, when it comes to cyber security, we have a rich vein of talent and expertise."

The PSNI deals with more than 300 requests a month relating to online incidents. Furthermore, an estimated one in 10 individuals will be victims of a cyber-crime.

In October, the police service revealed that individuals in the north lost around £13m to online fraud in 2015.

The cost of fraud to the UK as a whole rose above £1 billion for the first time in five years in 2016, driven in part by a huge surge in cyber-crime.

KPMG - which measured cases in UK courts with losses of £100,000 or more - said this was due to a rise in "super cases" worth more than £50m, while the value of the average fraud case doubled to £5.2m from £2.4m.

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