CyberSecurity in the North East of England (#CyberSecurityNE)

Way back in January this year I was asked by my Tech City UK colleagues to organise a cybersecurity roundtable in the North of England to discuss the proposed ‘Investigatory Powers Bill‘ which would be hosted by Baroness Joanna Shields OBE (ex-Bebo, Google and Facebook and now UK Minister for Internet Safety and Security).

Paul Lancaster (Plan Digital), Joanna Shields (UK Minister for Internet Safety & Security) & Doug Jones (Tech North)
Paul Lancaster (Plan Digital), Joanna Shields (UK Minister for Internet Safety & Security), Doug Jones (Tech North)

At first it was assumed that this would take place in Manchester but when my Tech North colleagues and I looked into it, Newcastle came out ahead in terms of assets and expertise which we felt deserved more airtime with and recognition by central government.

This included The Centre for Cybercrime and Computer Security (CCCS) at Newcastle University which ‘carries out versatile cyber security research and provides education to make the Internet safer for families, businesses and organisations’ and is one of just two Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research in the North of England (the other is at Lancaster University).

Newcastle University’s fantastic ‘Cloud Innovation Centre‘ at The Core, Newcastle Science Central was the venue for an excellent and thoughtful discussion with a range of academic and private sector experts on the issues surrounding the new Bill from a data collection and storage point of view and it filled me with great confidence to have such a high calibre of ‘good guys’ working in this field in the North East of England.

During my time at Tech North (part of Tech City UK), I spent a lot of my time trying to identify and then highlight unique selling points (or sub-sector specialisms) in each of the seven Northern cities of Newcastle, Sunderland, Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Hull that were based on genuine expertise and not just aspiration.

Apart from the academic expertise, when you take into account all the business services companies where data security is so important like Sage, Atom Bank, Student Loans and Barclays that are either headquartered or have data resilience teams based in the North East, it’s clear to me that CyberSecurity is a sub-sector of tech that the North East can really pin its hat on.

Since the roundtable, I’ve continued to keep an eye out for examples where the North East is coming together to share knowledge and insight on this growing sector and apart from IT/software membership organisation Dynamo North East running some excellent events as part of their ‘Cyber Resilience‘ workstream, I was very pleased to see North Tyneside-based Forfusion running their ‘Cyber-Attacks: Why they happen and how to stop them‘ event back at The Cloud Innovation Centre last week.

This was an excellent (albeit slightly worrying) event that saw around 50 people gather to hear some fascinating presentations by some of Cisco’s leading security experts and see first-hand just how easy it is for someone to gain unauthorised access to your software or IT systems from phishing emails (see Storify article).

When you hear what a big business this has become through the ‘industrialization of hacking’ (see the slides below) it’s rather worrying that despite all the expertise in the city, Newcastle tops the national table for CyberSecurity problems, that over 93% of businesses in Newcastle with over 200 employees and surrounding areas have reported losses or breaches of data, and that these hacks usually stem from poor or outdated network security!

When you then take into account that ‘the average cost of significant security breaches for small organisations ranges from £75,000-£311,000 and for larger organisations it can be between £1.46M-£3.14M’ - it makes you even more grateful that there is expertise on hand to help you protect yourself against Cyber-Attacks!

If you’re not sure where to start, I suggest:

  • Reading Forfusion’s blog here
  • Scanning through the presentation slides here
  • and then downloading Forfusion’s free ‘CyberSecurity Threat Report at if you want more detailed advice and support

Finally, a really simple and effective way to protect yourself against unauthorised logins to your software and access to your sensitive data is by using the rather brilliant ‘Varikey‘ reader invented by Newcastle-based tech entrepreneur Bob Golightly (see demo video below):

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