Global Meets Local: Discovering the South West Cyber Security Cluster

The South West of England is known for its diverse range of businesses from defence, high-tech, and agriculture, to travel and tourism, with attractions covering the famous Jurassic Coast via the historical maritime city of Plymouth where the Pilgrim Fathers sailed to the United States, to the stunning landscapes of Cornwall.

It also has a solid reputation as ‘a great place to live and work,’ a motto that nowadays is driving a clear move by many local authorities to attract companies and remote workers to the region. Digitalisation, alongside the drive for 5G adoption and implicitly good cybersecurity, play a central role in those plans.

The good news is that the region has been working for some time to meet these challenges.

The South West Cyber Security Cluster (SWCSC) was created as a not-for-profit organisation in 2014 with a ‘desire to bring together expertise from within the region to share knowledge and develop cybersecurity advice for local businesses and organisations,’ as Robin King, the cluster’s Chairman, reports. 

‘The cluster initiative managed to connect the local business, academic, and police communities to take a more joined up approach which was lacking at that time. Now, seven years later, it has established linkages to like-minded professionals across the region with a desire to network, make connections and share ideas,’ Mr. King continues.

According to the members of the SWCSC Steering Group, all of them professionals with close ties to the different stakeholder groups in the region, this community of committed individuals and organisations is now growing which, beyond mere sustainment (given the voluntary nature of the cluster), could be considered the key achievement of their work.

But there is more to it.

SWCSC has evolved to have three key objectives—protecting and providing advice to the businesses in the region, developing cyber skills, and promoting cyber innovation. To date, the cluster has done extensive work in all three areas:

  • Protection. This area is focused on supporting the small to medium sized-enterprise (SME) community with tools and advice, signposting key resources for their development – ‘their journey to be better protected’ as the cluster members describe it. The promotion of good practice and risk awareness through online and physical events and marketing activities, such as the Secure South West event next 17 March, is also part of this together with the engagement with regional business organisations, such as the Devon and Plymouth Chamber of Commerce or Software Cornwall. SWCSC’s Small Business Cyber Security Toolkit, a collection of valuable advice to guide in the SMEs’ journey to better security—and a perfect complement to our own Small Business Toolkit— and the Video Conferencing Service Selector Guide for SMEs are two great examples of the cluster’s capacities in this field. Both can be found in this link.
  • Skills. Some of the activities in this area include: raising awareness about the programmes and organisations that enable and develop cybersecurity skills, from school age into repurposing professionals; supporting the bridge between employers and those seeking work opportunities; engaging with universities and further-education colleges to offer a forum for their initiatives and research opportunities; coordinating with the regional and national bodies tasked with driving initiatives to further develop the digital skills base within the region, such as the South West Institute of Technology (SWIoT) or the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC)’s Cyber First programme; and engaging with the professional associations and their regional branches in the South West, such as the British Computer Society (BCS) and the Chartered Institute for Information Security (CIISec).
  • Innovation. The focus of this area is encouraging and supporting the development of innovative cyberbusinesses in the region with insight, review, guidance, and engagement across cluster members.

This three-pronged approach aligns with the United Kingdom’s national agenda, in Mr. King’s words—‘a well-protected cyber-aware business community, supported by the skills necessary to deliver cybersecurity within and into the region’s businesses to both enhance and develop the cyber sector, with the opportunity to drive new value through innovation.’

But it also takes advantage of some of the characteristics of the South West, such as its large range of academic cyber-related expertise and a long-standing community for research and skills development. It also offers adapted responses to support that diverse range of industry sectors (from tourism and rural to maritime and defence) and a very wide spectrum of organisation sizes.

Adaptability and coordination at the national level have been crucial to the success of the cluster and its continued energy and enthusiasm where, as for all not-for-profit organisations, funding and sustainment remains an ongoing challenge.

The economic pressure on the travel and tourism sector, central to the region and deeply affected by the COVID-19 crisis, has damaged its resilience against cyberattacks. Likewise, the increasing shift of agriculture to tech enablement has opened up new attack surfaces in a sector that is not particularly cybermature. Those are some of the new challenges that will test the cluster’s adaptability in the immediate future.

But the ‘new normal’ also brings new opportunities such as an increased reach, thanks to the capacity of holding virtual events (now monthly), or a broader awareness among SMEs and other actors in the region. Furthermore, in terms of coordination, the cluster benefits from the recent creation of the UK Cyber Resilience Centre Network. SWCSC is currently part of the Advisory Board of the regional South West Cyber Resilience Centre. 

SWCSC’s recent addition to the list of global partners of GCA is excellent news for both organisations.

The deep regional nature of the cluster will bring local meaning and impact to GCA’s efforts. Likewise, our global focus will help the cluster extend the reach and profile of its initiatives, will offer access to tools and resources that can flow into businesses within the region, and will create opportunities to share knowledge and direct experience – from local to global, and vice-versa.

Welcome, SWCSC, and thank you for letting our mission be local too!


The author, Alejandro Fernández-Cernuda Díaz, is the Director of Communications and Marketing at the Global Cyber Alliance. You can follow the EMEA team on Twitter @EMEA_GCA or connect with Alejandro on LinkedIn.