Boosting Scotland’s cyber resilience will be crucial to the success of its burgeoning data science sector, according to Digital Minister Kate Forbes.
Speaking at the fifth annual Big Data in Cyber Security conference, hosted by Napier University’s Cyber Academy, Forbes outlined the Scottish Government’s vision to develop the nation as a global leader in both the field of cyber resilience and data science.
The data science and cybersecurity sectors are becoming increasingly entwined as the need for stringent security practices and resilient cyber infrastructure becomes crucial. With citizen data on the line, enabling both sectors to work together toward a common goal is a necessity, Forbes insists.
“My discussions with business leaders and academics…have really helped understand how the evolution of cybersecurity is absolutely entwined with the rise of big data,” says Forbes. “You cannot have any of that progress without strong cybersecurity policies and implementation.”
Amidst an era of increased criminal and state-sponsored cyber threats, Forbes explains that the Scottish Government is fighting to create a highly-resilient cybersecurity culture throughout Scotland, encompassing the private and public sectors, throughout academia and right down to a grassroots level in Scottish schools.
“It’s against that background that the Scottish Government uses cyber resilience as a fundamental enabler of our digital ambitions, including in the area of big data,” Forbes explains. “We are explicit about the fact that appropriate cyber resilience must be built into publicly funded big data projects from the outset. It’s not about retro-fitting once you built the project. It’s about ensuring it’s in there from the beginning.
“Achieving that requires the development of a genuine culture. And culture is key. It’s not just about strategies or a tick-box exercise, it’s about the development of a culture of cyber resilience in Scotland.”
Cyber resilience must be viewed as an inherent aspect of everything that organisations and individuals do in a digital world, she insists, not simply a “separate protocol”.
This grassroots effort from Forbes and the Scottish Government – set out in a series of action plans – requires Holyrood and industry partners to work together to strengthen and embed an understanding of cyber resilience right across Scottish society.
Through this, the country can continue to develop a strong talent pipeline of individuals who can benefit both the cybersecurity and data science sectors. This comes at a cost, however. As with many nations around the world, Scotland continues to grapple with skills gaps in a host of areas.
While Forbes concedes that this is a growing issue, the reality is that Scotland isn’t alone in its skills-related headache; and its academic institutions are leading the charge in remedying the situation.
“We know that it’s not just in Scotland,” she says. “This is an international problem. When it comes to cybersecurity skills and the data science sector, we are all struggling globally with a skills gap. Scottish universities have initiated various data science programmes to meet that critical shortage of data skills in Scotland.
“It’s going to have to start at the youngest of ages to help young people understand the future roles and professions, and to give them that love that ensures they can then go into these roles,” Forbes asserts.
“As talent increasingly flows through the system, it’s vital that those disciplines are enabled to talk to each other and that our data scientists are equipped with a sound understanding of the importance of cybersecurity to their work on big data.”
Big Data as an Enabler
Forbes asserts that there is huge potential for big data to be an “enabler of innovation in cybersecurity” in Scotland. One of the key challenges that the country faces in ensuring cyber resilience is the broad range and volume of attacks that Forbes says “hits our networks every day” – a volume far greater than any human can possibly sift through.
“That volume is only going to increase,” she adds, which is why closer ties between the two sectors – and continued skills development efforts – will be crucial to future success.
“Ensuring fundamental cybersecurity would be difficult enough if our organisations had an army of professionals to monitor network traffic and go hunting for advanced threats,” she explains. “But, of course, the skills gap means that currently, we struggle to recruit enough skilled people to do even the basic things that are needed to protect our systems.”
That, she continues, is where the potential of big data in cybersecurity offers “such exciting opportunities” – capitalising on emerging technologies, analytics tools and the expertise of the sector could help cybersecurity practitioners across Scotland to “discern the signals from the noise and allow them to do absolutely crucial things to ensure the security of networks and systems”.