If you're concerned about keeping people cyber-safe worldwide, Ian Robertson of the NCC Group believes Waterloo, Ontario, is a place where you can find leading-edge solutions.

"There's a unique confluence of technical engineering and digital security expertise here," Robertson said in a recent telephone interview. "The University of Waterloo is a real powerhouse, and it's not the only one in Ontario. Carleton University in Ottawa, the University of Toronto, and the Munk School of Global Affairs are all significant players in cryptography, cyber-security and privacy."

E-security innovation draws investment

That pool of expertise led the UK-based NCC Group, digital security specialists with offices in the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific, to establish a research centre in the Waterloo region.

The centre, which opened in August 2015, focuses on making it tougher for hackers to crack the security embedded in mobile, wearable and Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices. Within 12 months, they were expanding.

"This is a really fertile environment for innovation," Robertson said. "We're thrilled to be here, working with people who are so passionate about cyber-security."

Expertise backed by R&D support programs

But expertise is not the only reason why Ontario has emerged as a digital security hub. Low operating costs for information technology firms bundled with generous government R&D support programs create a compelling business case.

"Salaries and other costs are lower here than in the U.S.," Robertson observed. "The government programs help make it a slam dunk."

The NCC Group is not the only company that has recognized the opportunity. IBM, Cisco, Intel and Symantec, all global leaders in cyber security, also conduct R&D and product development in their Toronto and Waterloo offices.

Cyber threats multiplied by IoT

The proliferation of mobile, wearable and IoT devices is changing how people interact with the world. It's also making people – often unwittingly – vulnerable to hackers and other cyber criminals.

While many leading-edge digital technologies – from home automation appliances to connected cars, and virtual assistants with artificial intelligence – are designed to make our lives easier, they can be worrying. They raise the spectres of malware, computer viruses, identity theft, and a growing list of security concerns that make many consumers uneasy.

"We're at a pivotal time in global technology," Robertson said. "We need to make sure the technology we're integrating into people's lives is safe."

Device makers have a duty of care for e-customers

The worry is that too many manufacturers are focussed on making things smarter, faster and cheaper. Security is often not a priority in the race to get products to market. With reports of widespread computer hacking and online predators making daily headlines and generating plotlines for television crime shows, uncertainty grows among consumers.

For Robertson, the primary responsibility for mitigating those impacts and allaying those security fears lies with the tech community.

"We have a duty of care as developers and producers of these devices," Robertson said. "My mom shouldn't need a degree in computer science to feel confident her light bulb is not a security threat."

Sector/subsector: 

November 25, 2016

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