‘Putting Ireland on the map’ as a cybersecurity leader in Europe

4 Oct 2022

Image: © beebright/Stock.adobe.com

Cyber Ireland’s Eoin Byrne discusses the importance of a cybersecurity cluster and why Cork is the perfect location for it.

The Regional Technology Clustering Fund was launched by Enterprise Ireland three years ago to boost engagement between businesses and knowledge providers such as institutes of technology and technological universities.

Supported by this initiative, Cyber Ireland is the national cybersecurity cluster organisation that is bringing industry and academia together to represent the needs of the infosec ecosystem in the country.

The cluster is industry-led and hosted at Munster Technological University (MTU) in Cork. It has 160 member organisations nationwide, with more than 90 Irish SMEs and 40 multinational corporations (MNCs).

Eoin Byrne is the education outreach manager at Cyber Ireland, having worked with industry clusters for the past 10 years. His experience includes international projects across Europe, the US, South America and Africa to understand how industry clusters work.

‘Our job is to understand the needs of industry’

“Over the past three years I’ve applied these learnings to set up a cluster organisation for the cybersecurity sector in Ireland using a best-in-class model,” he said.

The cluster’s goal is to “put Ireland on the map” as a cybersecurity leader in Europe. It hopes to achieve this by building the community, developing a cybersecurity talent pipeline, building an R&D ecosystem and supporting Irish companies to scale and export.

“Our job is to understand the needs of industry, the barriers to growth and realise the opportunities for the sector,” said Byrne.

“For example, global investment in cybersecurity firms reached record levels in 2021, surpassing $20bn. However, our business survey 2022 found that Irish companies had issues around securing investment in Ireland, including long lead times and the level of investment required.”

In order to highlight the innovative technologies in the Irish cybersecurity sector, Cyber Ireland teamed up with Enterprise Ireland to host a cyber investor event in Dublin in June of this year.

At the event, VCs and investors heard pitches from 12 European cybersecurity start-ups, half of which were Irish. This was followed by B2B meetings introducing the start-ups to investors, partners and buyers.

Skills gap a major challenge

One of the biggest challenges within the cybersecurity sector is a critical skills shortage. In fact, a report from nonprofit cybersecurity network (ISC)2 last year suggested that Ireland needs 10,000 cybersecurity workers to plug the skills gap.

Byrne said Cyber Ireland’s own survey in 2022 found that 61pc of organisations have personnel-related issues, such as a lack of candidates with the appropriate skill level, competition for staff, lack of non-technical skills, or unaffordable salaries.

“We’ve set out a goal to develop a pipeline of homegrown cybersecurity talent in Ireland and have made significant progress on this over the past three years,” he said.

“Our Cyber Skills Report 2021 identified the skill shortages in industry, and we’ve used this data to engage with the education and training providers nationwide to meet industry needs and demand. This had led to increase in the number of cybersecurity course available, as well as STEM courses with security modules.”

Several Irish higher education institutes, including University of Limerick (UL) and MTU, have launched initiatives in recent years in a bid to encourage more people to get into the cybersecurity sector.

“Through engaging with four Irish universities, MTU, Technological University Dublin, University College of Dublin and UL, the Cyber Skills project was created to address this specific industry skills shortages and awarded funding of €8.1m by the Higher Education Authority,” said Byrne.

“Cyber Skills is a national programme that provides online, university-accredited pathways that focus on upskilling professionals into in-demand cybersecurity roles.”

As part of the Cyber Skills project, the cluster also created a programme called Cyber Futures to educate young people and secondary school students about cybersecurity and the career opportunities available.

Why Cork is the place for cybersecurity

Byrne said that Ireland as a whole has become a global location for cybersecurity multinationals, including many of the world’s top security software companies.

According to Cyber Ireland’s State of the Cyber Security Sector in Ireland 2022 report, the sector employs 7,300 people across 490 companies.

“There are cybersecurity companies nationwide, but there is a critical mass in the Cork region,” said Byrne.

“This industry cluster has built up around two MNCs that first located in Cork in the early 2000s, Trend Micro and McAfee, who acted as anchor for talent for the cybersecurity sector, and successful models for other MNCs to follow.

“Cork now has the highest concentration of cybersecurity multinationals in the country. What is exciting to see is the recent emergence of a number of Irish cybersecurity start-ups in region such as Vaultree, Guardyoo, Akeero and GetVisibility.”

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Jenny Darmody is the editor of Silicon Republic