February 2020 Members' Dinner

Date: 10 Feb 2020

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Echoes of Bletchley Park – why MK businesses need to harness female talent in the war against cybercrime

In a city renowned as a hotspot for technology enterprises, along with the UK’s highest start-up rates outside of London, Milton Keynes businesses face an increasing risk to cyber-attack – according to former head of GCHQ, Robert Hannigan CMG.

Speaking to the city’s business people at this week’s Milton Keynes Business Leaders event, Mr Hannigan offered the 80 attendees an insight into the parallel universe of cybercrime and the dark web. He highlighted the fact that, with the exacerbated ransomware threat, no business, no matter how small, was immune.

Coining the phrase, ‘secure by design’ Mr Hannigan encouraged businesses to improve their security and, for start-ups, make it an integral component right from the beginning: “All businesses are open to some form of cyber-attack, and the damage can be exponential.” He highlighted the fact that it was very often human error which enabled criminals to infiltrate a company’s system so appealed for good practices and communication amongst all members of staff.

Drawing comparisons with the codebreakers at Bletchley Park, Mr Hannigan, now a senior executive of BlueVoyant, called for a greater pipeline of young talent to join cybersecurity, an industry which will see global vacancies reach 1.8 million by 2022:

“The Bletchley Park codebreakers weren’t all mathematicians and engineers, many used basic human skills to crack the code and decipher human error on the German side. These problem-solving skills, and the ability to understand human behaviour are integral to roles within cybersecurity. Having a mix of all these people throwing about different ways of thinking creates real diversity. And it’s something we leveraged at GCHQ.”

Referencing the Institute of Technology at Bletchley Park: “We don’t necessarily need traditionally academic people – just those with an aptitude for technology – we need to find this talent and harness it.”

On the topic of diversity, Mr Hannigan once again drew comparisons to Bletchley Park – where three quarters of the workers were women: “We need to knock down the myths and stereotypes and create messaging around coding and engineering which appeals to teenage girls.”

While acknowledging the importance of attracting girls into cybersecurity roles, the audience debated the importance of retaining females in STEM and technology roles and how this plays a vital role in the successful future of MK businesses.