NI is number one location in the world for cyber security investment

US cyber security firm Alert Logic was attracted to Northern Ireland in 2016
Gareth McKeown

NORTHERN IRELAND is now the number one location in the world for cyber security investment with the highest percentage of qualified IT professionals in the UK and Ireland.

Just two weeks ago US-based software company Unosquare became the latest international tech firm to set up operations in the north, joining a host of other multi-nationals in a rapidly growing industry.

Major US software firms Black Duck, Rapid 7 and Alert Logic all started up in Belfast last year, bringing with them almost 200 highly-skilled jobs for the local economy, while Proofpoint and Whitehat are over a 100 foreign companies to be won over by the local market.

Invest NI executive director, business and sector development Jeremy Fitch said a skilled work force nurtured at our universities has helped the north become a 'global leader' in the IT sector.

“US tech companies have been enticed by the hard-to-find skillsets being nurtured at Queen’s and Ulster University. We have the highest percentage of qualified IT professionals in the UK and Ireland, with more than 77 per cent holding a degree level qualification," he said.

"Companies such as Black Duck, Rapid 7, Proofpoint, Alert Logic and Whitehat are recent investors here, attracted by this strong pool of talent. The jobs offer salaries typically one-and-a-half times the average local salary; and with Symantec, a security software vendor, predicting the number of job openings to rise to six million globally by 2019 there are real opportunities for our talented workforce."

For their part the regional business development agency has actively targeted the IT sector and offers millions of pounds in financial support towards job creation.

Invest NI chief executive Alastair Hamilton has said he expects further job announcements in the coming months.

Within the tech sector cyber security has become an area of particular expansion and the north is now the number one location in the world for inward investment and the number one global destination for US cyber security companies with an eye for international expansion according to the Financial Times' FDi markets.

The Northern Ireland Industrial Strategy published in January estimates that the cyber security sector has grown by 30 per cent in the past 12 months and with 1,100 jobs Belfast now has the highest concentration in Europe.

It has forecast the city will become a "global innovation hub" for cyber security in the future supporting over 5,000 jobs.

The skilled workforce and input of Invest NI is supported by the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) in Belfast - the UK's national innovation and knowledge centre for cyber security.

The flagship centre has helped in the attraction of over 100 high-tech Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and start-up companies, who employ more than 2,000 people.

David Crozier, part of the commercial team at CSIT said the establishment of the centre in 2008 was very much a "catalyst" for growth in the sector.

As well as conducting fundamental research into cyber security technology the centre has spawned a popular Masters degree at Queen's University. Going forward it is hoped a full undergraduate degree in cyber security will soon be in place and the subject will gain greater prominence within the post-primary curriculum.

In terms of growth of Mr Crozier believes Northern Ireland must seize the opportunity in cyber security.

"Belfast has a strong hi-tech industry as it is and cyber security is a sub-section of that so you have transferable skills in terms of software engineering roles that can transfer over into cyber security. We’re working towards a target of about 5,000 jobs by 2026," he said.

While other sectors are facing uncertainty following Brexit Mr Crozier is "bullish" about its impact on cyber security investment.

"It’s really high-value stuff, companies have a demand for it globally and to a certain extent that does make it Brexit proof."

"It’s not going to have a detrimental effect for sure, it may actually lead to more demand if you see a hardening of UK national positions around trade tariffs and those sort of things that’s naturally going to drive investment into types of technologies to protect sensitive information, sensitive networks. It possibly produces even greater opportunity," Mr Crozier added.


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