HutZero entrepreneurs helping businesses stay one step ahead of the hackers

Cyber security - and keeping your passwords safe - is a focus of attention for businesses
Gail Bell

WITH an estimated net worth of nearly £10 billion and growth predictions of almost £45 billion, the UK cyber security market seems to be in everyone's orbit at the moment - whether you are a worried chief executive or a high profile victim like Pippa Middleton.

The Duchess of Cambridge's celebrity sister may have had her iCloud photos spectacularly hacked by a 'person or persons unknown' - as cited in her recent High Court action - but it is a problem persistently gnawing at ordinary people in the street, as well as business entrepreneurs whose careers rely on passwords being secure.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing, according to Ardglass businessman Donal Carville, chief executive of financial services company Circadian Capital.

The former investment banker was one of five Northern Ireland cyber security entrepreneurs out of a total of 23 selected to participate in a Hutzero boot camp in London organised by the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) at Queen's University and Cyber London.

Based in London, the Oxford engineering graduate is currently involved in building what he describes as "slowly breakable passwords" using biometrics with individual devices.

He now needs to raise around £400,000 to bring his idea to the "functional prototype" stage and sees himself at the ascendancy of a new - and necessary - "authentication services" sector.

"People are starting to see authentication as a service and are prepared to pay for it, which is a shift in perception," Donal said.

"For too long there has been this 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' type of attitude, but now the emphasis is on putting more into configuration at the outset.

"It is definitely timely because no matter how secure you may think your password is, it is sure be compromised at some stage.

"We are only starting to waken up to the fact that you can't be lazy and use the same password for 14 different accounts."

The first initiative of its kind, HutZero was "hugely beneficial" for participants, according to Louise Cushnahan, innovation programme manager at CSI, who said the key market challenges were the "diversity and magnitude" of cyber security breaches and attacks.

"This means resources are being stretched and this is driving a lot of research and innovation in the areas of machine learning and artificial intelligence," she said.

"Vulnerability scanning and 'patching' is a big area, with companies still being caught out by legacy attacks which have been known about for years ­- Talk Talk is a perfect example."

The communications company was fined a record £400,000 last year after the personal data for around 157,000 customers was compromised in a cyber attack.

She added: "And,­ the 'Internet of Things' is opening up new attack vectors which are being exploited by criminals to launch attacks on networks and systems."

Despite these setbacks, and perhaps because of them, there are now around 1,100 cyber related jobs in Belfast, with CSIT planning to increase opportunities further in the near future.

"Certainly, programmes such as HutZero and CSIT Labs will enable further growth within the sector," Louise said.

"There is definitely a need for more cuber start-ups, but I think Northern Ireland already has a strong foothold in the sector.

"The real benefit of HutZero will be seen further down the line when people are able to bring their ideas to market."

The programme, funded by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, looked at how 'cyber entrepreneurs' could could overcome obstacles to commercialisation and respond to particular problems in the marketplace.

Mentoring is ongoing and will culminate in a finale event with access to key stakeholders in London on December 15.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Irish News