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Commercialising cybersecurity

A few days ago, an Australian cybersecurity company launched itself on the Australian Securities Exchange by raising AUD 8 million through an initial public offering. The twelve-year-old company has “experience in secure information collaboration and sharing within the highest security areas of government”. Following its IPO success, it is looking to launch a new range of cybersecurity products.

Under most circumstances, banking on someone else’s misfortune would be plain distasteful. But in an age of persistent cyberattacks, can such opportunistic behaviour can be justified?

Quite so. Not only is the behaviour justified, it is encouraged.

At the 3rd Singapore International Cyber Week (SICW), Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security, gave an opening keynote address. He outlined the need for Cyber Innovation as part of a three-pronged approach to build a resilient and innovative digital community.

An Appetite for Cybersecurity Solutions

Walking around the exhibition hall at the Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, visitors are faced with an array of colourful pop-up booths. Poster boards are adorned with gloomy variants of the punchline “Are you sufficiently prepared?”.

Its 27th year running, the GovWare Conference and Exhibition is a one-stop-shop for IT department heads and executives to survey the land of cybersecurity innovations and technologies. GovWare is one of the key components of SICW. More than 250 companies and vendors participated in this year’s iteration.

One salesperson called the event Singapore’s largest buffet of cybersecurity vendors.

Rightly so. Delegates from around the world pecked at the products and solutions on display. Over 8000 visitors were whetting their appetite for cybersecurity solutions and ideas at GovWare. The positive attendance signals the growing need for dynamic cybersecurity solutions.

The Changing Face of Security

Minister Teo said, “The fight to secure our cyberspace is particularly challenging as it is asymmetric. It is easy for malicious actors to hide their identity, carry out their attacks across borders, and cause severe disruptions in essential services that disproportionately impact millions of people.”

Society’s understanding of security has rapidly evolved in the last five years. Bloody battles and senseless crossfires are joined by vicious cyberattacks. What’s worse is that the scale and scope of cyberwarfare is quite possibly far more damaging than armed conflict. Unleashing a full-scale Cyber Pearl Harbour can incur huge economic losses, reputational damage, and even bodily harm.

Cyber-espionage, cyber-terrorism, cyber-sabotage are the nukes of Industry 4.0. Man is merely instrumental in the delivery of the attack. The machine takes over the body.

The dystopic environment calls for more innovation in the field of cybersecurity. Once dominated by large players, room for a mushrooming of smaller vendors is plentiful.

Boom from Gloom: Cybersecurity Startups Growing

Smaller cybersecurity providers want to have a share of the ever-growing pie. A report showed that Singapore’s cybersecurity market size is estimated to be worth SGD 570 million, a 12% growth per annum increase in the last five years. A similar trend is witnessed around the world, with North American countries accounting for the largest cybersecurity market share globally.

Minister Teo said, “By embracing cyber innovation, we can grow the cybersecurity industry and at the same time better protect our systems and users.”

But with too many vendors offering different solutions, for different needs, at different price points, and with different capabilities, prima facie it would seem better if the government took control. The cocktail of solutions if mixed into a single potent formula would form a formidable bulwark against any and all threats.

Afterall, stalking the 250 over booths gets tiring. Numbed by the inundation of catchphrases and artificial intelligence and blockchain enabled cybersecurity solutions, everything becomes a blur. In fact, one cybersecurity consultant explained that in a study his company conducted, a single organisation utilises 20 to 30 different solutions. Even so, the potential for an attack remains high.

Nevertheless, the hodgepodge of solutions is necessary, and ideals of a centralised solution is unfounded. Afterall, the economic opportunities abound in the wartime as in peacetime. Moreover, the wisdom of free market principles applies likewise in the field of cybersecurity. Competition leads improves innovation.

If startups are successful, they could make great headwinds in times of uncertainty. Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister in charge of Cyber Security, believed Singapore’s cybersecurity market could generate SGD 900 million in revenue by 2020.

Cybersecurity experts and private vendors will always pave the way ahead faster than any government. Unlike bigger, more established market players, startups are more agile. In turn the solutions are more likely to be innovative and cost competitive – important traits in a field where threats are evolving to become more malicious.

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