UK appoints first SME cyber-security 'czar' with £4 million funding boost

Drawing security SMEs and startups into network

The UK Government has appointed Andy Williams from industry body TechUK as its first ever SME cyber-czar and pumped £4 million into a competition for small firms looking to develop new security technology.

Speaking at yesterday's US-UK Global Cyber Security Innovation Summit in London, Business Secretary Vince Cable explained that the small business champion's job would be to find and connect small businesses in the security field as well as promote them at international trade events.

A second initiative will see Dr Emma Philpott, managing director of technology consultancy Key IQ, establishing regional clusters of cyber-security SMEs across the UK as a way of giving them national exposure.

"The growth of the cyber security sector in the UK is a great success story, worth over £6 billion and employing around 40,000 people," said cable.

"Building a strong and resilient cyberspace in the UK is central to ensuring that our companies can make the most of business opportunities online, whilst avoiding potentially costly threats to the information they hold and the services they provide."

A second stand of the announcement was the setting up of a £4 million fund, run by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB, now known as Innovate UK), from 2015, which will hand out money to the best ideas from the sector, including from the all-important startups.

"Maintaining innovation and growth requires continued investment. Committing a further £4 million will help businesses of all sizes turn their ideas to counter cyber threats into reality."

For all its worthiness, an obvious criticism is the size of a pot that won't stretch far when spread across an economy as big as the UK's.

"Whilst making funds available to help small businesses is admirable, this amount of money is still relatively small. Looking at the total budget of £860 million for cyber security in the UK [to 2016] it represents less than 0.5 percent," commented Rob Cotton, CEO of large security consultancy, the NCC Group.

"The solution to this problem will take more than just money. The cyber security barriers that small businesses face are complex - from incentive, knowledge, retained capability and cost sensitivity."

To make an impact, the funding would need to be ongoing and not just a one-off, said Cotton.

Cotton has a point - £4 million for SMEs and security startups is peanuts compared to the more impressive sums the TSB has been handing out to projects such as smart and future cities in recent years. The TSB's 2013 budget was £440 million.

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