The Government is also supporting two key leading figures - techUK's Andy Williams and IASME CEO Dr Emma Philpott – in a bid to strengthen the UK's small cyber security firms, and the sector as a whole which is targeted to make £2 billion in exports in 2016.
The initiatives, announced by Vince Cable at the first US-UK Global Cyber Security Innovation Summit in London on 16 September, have been greeted as “excellent” and “having great potential” by industry experts. They may also go some way to answering the criticism in a recent National Audit Office report, which slated the Government's slow progress in helping cyber exports as “the area of poorest performance” in the National Cyber Security Programme.
The new £4 million competition will be run in 2015 by the Government's innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board, which will award the prize money to small firms that have the best ideas for tackling the cyber threat.
Meanwhile, Andy Williams will act as the Government's small business cyber security ‘champion'
within the Cyber Growth Partnership, a high-level joint industry, academia and government body tasked with boosting the UK's global market position in cyber security products and services, which is co-chaired by Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey and BT CEO Gavin Patterson.
And Emma Philpott – ho built the Malvern cluster of small cyber security businesses – is getting Government help in setting up regional networks of security small businesses.
As well as the Malvern cluster, which now numbers more than 50 firms, Philpott has already galvanised new networks in Lancaster and Cardiff, with more on the way in Cambridge, London and Brighton then Bath, Edinburgh and Northern Ireland.
She said she has been “inundated” by small cyber security firms who want to partner and share ideas.
Philpott told SCMagazineUK.com: “The enthusiasm of these companies to get together to talk about the challenges they face, find partnerships and network has been immense.
“Until recently they haven't really had a voice. Now they are a very powerful combined voice and can work together to directly influence government strategy.
“Some of these companies have amazing technology and innovation and a lot of them also have very innovative service offerings. It certainly has benefits to the UK as a whole and to UK exports.”
She said there are already around 160 small firms in the UK Cyber Security Forum, the umbrella organisation helping these clusters, which only began in April.
Overall, the UK cyber security sector is worth more than £6 billion and employs over 40,000 people.
Launching the plans, Vince Cable said: “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.
“Committing a further £4 million will help businesses of all sizes turn their ideas to counter cyber threats into reality. Partnering with industry experts will also increase the opportunities for the UK's small cyber companies to work together and grow their businesses.”
Commenting on the initiatives, industry expert Alan Woodward, visiting professor at Surrey University's Computing Department and an adviser to Europol, told SCMagazineUK.com via email: “I think it's an excellent idea. Such funds can help ideas that would otherwise sink without trace take that first important step towards proving their feasibility.
“It's especially important in smaller businesses where there is little or no money for blue-skies research.
“Some of the money might well go on helping defend against cyber crime in non-technical ways. We know that between 80 and 90 percent of successful attacks involve human error so it might be that someone has an idea that is purely human in nature – it could still be effective and that is what counts.”
Woodward added: “What is interesting is that the Technology Strategy Board, who will run this programme, do not have endless numbers of these funds and they tend to be reserved for matters that the Government takes most seriously.
“So, it's rather encouraging that the UK Government sees this as an area that needs to be taken seriously, whilst acknowledging that our best defences might not be anything like we have at present.”
Adrian Wright, a board member of the Information Systems Security Association UK, told SC via email: “The cyber security industry both globally and locally is dominated by a few very large companies. However I see maximum innovation in this sector coming from very small start-ups who are nimble enough to come up with new ideas and bring them to market with far greater speed than the bigger players.
“So I view government-funded initiatives such as this as having great potential, just so long as the criteria for funding etc are fairly set out and accessible to all small players in the industry.”
Wright said that maintaining the security of the UK's SMEs – who employ 14.4 million people - is also paramount.
“So initiatives that can help put both parts of this puzzle together, by delivering leading-edge security innovation that can readily be used to defend the UK's vast army of SME businesses, have to be taken seriously and welcomed.”