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Mapping the Cyber Island

Published: 1 September 2020


Cross-border trade in goods and services on the island of Ireland has grown exponentially
over the past twenty years. Whilst, clarity on the impact on trading relationships is yet to emerge from Brexit negotiations, InterTradeIreland is keen to ensure that cross-border trade
continues to grow. Over the past two decades cross-border trade has proven to be robust recovering strongly from shocks such as the banking crisis, which have made local businesses
in both the Republic and Northern Ireland more resilient.

Like the rest of the developed world, technology has come to play a central role in supporting and facilitating economic and social life. The island of Ireland has also gained very significantly in economic terms from development of a global data ecosystem; our geographic position, and strong links to the US have ensured that we have become host to a significant amount of data and economic activity. Cyber security is becoming the core of this activity.

Mapping the Cyber Island seeks to shed light on the North/South linkages and connections of the cyber security industry, and the potential supports required to buttress the sector as it develops towards one of importance in the Republic and Northern Ireland. To add some perspective, IDA Ireland (2018) reports that Ireland’s cyber security sector employs approximately 6,500, whilst the cyber security sector in Northern Ireland employs almost 1,700 people with over 75 companies operating in Northern Ireland (Computer Weekly, 2019). There is an ambitious target of having 5,000 employees in the sector by 2030 (NDNA, 2020).

Cyber Security is often described as the means of ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, authenticity and availability of networks, devices and data. However, as network and information systems become more embedded and complex, securing these becomes simultaneously more important and difficult. While these responses have evolved quickly in an attempt to keep pace with technological and market developments, this process is made vastly more challenging by the extremely dynamic nature of developments, both in terms of technology and in terms of the global strategic environment (Government of Ireland, 2019b).

To gain perspectives on the supports required to link cyber security firms in the Republic and Northern Ireland, the authors worked with Cyber Ireland [1] and NI Cyber, two cluster organisations which bring together Industry, Academia and Government to represent the needs of the Cyber Security Ecosystem. These clusters aim to enhance the Innovation, Growth and Competitiveness of the firms and organisations that make up their respective clusters.

A V-LINC analysis was applied to understand the linkages and connections which cyber security firms in both the Republic and Northern Ireland engage in from local, cross-border and international perspectives. V-LINC provides a framework within which to interview a sample of firms in a sector, to understand the business linkages which these firms operate across their value chain, regulatory, RD&I and training functions. V-LINC uses specially designed software to visualise this information to provide a geographic footprint of the firms’ connections. The business impact of firms’ linkages is also measured. When respondent firms’ data are combined, visualised and analysed an understanding of the various linkages that clustered firms engage in, allows targeted policy recommendations to be developed to solidify strengths and address cluster weaknesses.

The Mapping the Cyber Island analysis provides a thorough account of the types, geographic scope and impact of linkages which a sample of 11 member firms from Cyber Ireland and 10
from NI Cyber engage in. One of the benefits of the V-LINC analysis is its ability to visualise
the connections between various actors in a cluster ecosystem. Examples of the connections
respondents have, are showcased in Figures 1 and 2 (see page 4 of report) which visualise the value chain (customer and supplier) linkages reported by firms from Cyber Ireland (Blue) and NI Cyber (Red). These connections are shown locally and nationally in Figure 1, and across Europe and internationally in Figure 2. A highway of linkages between the South West and Dublin exists (Cyber Ireland respondents), whilst similarly numerous linkages between Belfast and London are apparent (NI Cyber respondents). Cyber Ireland respondents are heavily connected across Europe, whilst further afield both Cyber Ireland and NI Cyber firms have numerous connections with North America and Asia. 

If we focus on customers, or output linkages alone, Figures 1 & 2 above show the importance of global markets for cyber security firms. Cyber Ireland respondents (Blue) report that 95% of Output linkages are reported outside Ireland, with 54% destined for the European marketplace and 41% for International markets. Whilst NI Cyber firms report that 86% of output linkages are outside Northern Ireland, of which 23% is destined for the UK, a further 17% for the European marketplace and 46% with international customers.

When analysing the V-LINC results from Cyber Ireland and having reviewed Ireland’s National Cyber Security Strategy 2019 – 2024 (Government of Ireland, 2019b) and Future Jobs 2019
(Government of Ireland, 2019a) the following policies are proposed to support the development of the cyber security sector in Ireland.
  1. Support and Strengthen collaborative R&D linkages with academia and industry, through i) a dedicated national cybersecurity research centre and ii) collaborative national funding programmes for R&D.
  2. Prioritisation of Training and Education supports to address critical skills shortages in cyber security.
  3. Connect Multinational and Indigenous players across the Island of Ireland.

Further context and support for these recommendations are outlined in the section V-LINC Highlights – Cyber Ireland (South West), as part of this report.

When analysing the V-LINC results from NI Cyber and reviewing Cyber Security: A Strategic Framework for Action 2017-2021 and UK National Cyber Security Strategy 2016-2020 the following policies are proposed to develop the Northern Ireland cyber security sector.
  1. Further develop and support NI Cyber as a cluster organisation with responsibility for the
    cyber sector in Northern Ireland.
  2. Prioritising facilitation of B2B and academic research and development linkages.
  3. Facilitate and Focus on the Internationalisation of Micro and SME Cyber Firms.

The context and support for these recommendations are outlined in the section V-LINC Highlights – NI Cyber (Northern Ireland), as part of this report.

To connect these recommendations from an all island perspective, there is opportunity through leveraging the InterTradeIreland Synergy [2] programme to jumpstart the connection of both collaborative B2B trade and RD&I between industry and academia by identifying a common pathway to solve shared problems in both Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

Finally, regarding current trade levels and appetite for cross-border collaboration the V-LINC interviews also sought to ascertain current levels of trade and interest in collaborative opportunities to further connect the sector in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Table 2, showcases that half of the respondents in both jurisdictions are trading with counterparts across the border, albeit at low levels of overall turnover in the majority of instances.

In Table 3, it was clear that respondents from Ireland (91%), and Northern Ireland (70%) were
interested in participating/attending in cross border conferences. This was followed by networking with respondents from Ireland (73%), and Northern Ireland (60%) interested in
participating – with Business Collaboration / Pitching / Elevator Pitches mentioned by respondents.

Respondents from Ireland (73%) were interested in visiting Belfast to look at the resources
such as, CSIT and the Digital Catapult, whilst only 10% of Northern Ireland respondents were
interested in visiting Ireland. It cannot be underestimated the focal point such R&D and enterprise support incubators can provide for a sector in a region, and it is obvious that the
respondents from the Republic of Ireland are aware of the world class standing of both CSIT
and the Digital Catapult. It is also understandable that there is no equivalent in the Republic
of Ireland focused on cyber security that has built such a reputation and this effectively explains the lack of interest in study visits from Northern Ireland respondents as there is no focal point for the sector in Ireland.

Mapping the Cyber Island sets out a pathway upon which Cyber Ireland and NI Cyber can embrace the present challenges faced by the cyber security sector, their members and take
advantage of the enterprise and job creation opportunities flowing from these global technological developments. This report develops a series of recommendations designed to
address some of the complex challenges currently facing Cuber ireland and NI Cyber members
associated with sustaining and growing the number of people employed in this sector.


[1] Cyber Ireland is a national cluster organisation which brings together Industry, Academia and Government to represent the needs of the Cyber Security Ecosystem across the Republic of Ireland. Its aim is to enhance the Innovation, Growth and Competitiveness of the companies
and organisations which are part of the cluster. In this report a sample of member firms from the South West of Ireland were interviewed to gain an understanding of this specialisation of Cyber activity in Ireland.

[2] Synergy is InterTradeIreland’s cross-border cluster initiative that aims to increase the growth and competitiveness, by supporting synergistic cross-border connections between networks, partnerships, sectors and clusters on the island of Ireland. 


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