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Why Northern Ireland is a world-leading cyber security hub

  • Jeremy Fitch, Executive Director of Business Growth at Invest NI, reflects on Northern Ireland’s increasingly strong presence in the cyber security arena. 

    As the world’s economies move further towards digital models, the issue of cyber security has taken centre stage and Northern Ireland’s sector has grown rapidly. Northern Ireland is now a globally recognised cyber security hub with innovative start-ups, an impressive cluster of international investors and world-leading university research centres.

    Our cyber security sector employs some 2500 professionals working in over 100 companies that include both indigenous businesses and large multinationals.

    This dynamism within the sector and its impressive success in recent years is due to the timely combination of research excellence, cutting-edge technology, collaboration between academia and industry, a strong skills pipeline and targeted government support.

    Research coupled with commercialisation

    The growth of the cyber security sector in Northern Ireland has been supported by the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT) at Queen’s University Belfast. Set up in 2009 with a strong emphasis on the commercial exploitation of cyber security innovations, it marked a significant moment in the growth of the sector.

    CSIT brings together research specialists in secure hardware and embedded systems; post-quantum cryptography and advanced cryptography architectures; security intelligence — AI for cyber security and mobile security; networked security systems, analytics-based monitoring and forensics in new network architectures; and industrial control systems and operational technology security.

    It is supported by Innovate UK, the EPSRC, UK Government in Northern Ireland and Invest NI, and certified by the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre, a part of GCHQ, as an Academic Centre of Excellence in Cyber Security Research and Education. It is a core player in the global cyber security research network.

    CSIT’s research has acted as a magnet for companies that recognised the impact that it would have on the sector. As a result, CSIT has carried out collaborations with many world-leading companies and its research priorities are driven by its Industrial Advisory Board, which includes Rolls Royce, Seagate, BAE Systems, eBay and Thales. CSIT has been cited as a key factor in the decision by many global cyber security firms to set up in Northern Ireland.

    Global players and local talent

    The strength of our cyber security sector is reflected in the fact that Northern Ireland is the number one international investment location for US cyber security firms (FT fDi Markets 2023). It has attracted a raft of top-tier companies, in both the product development and cyber security services fields. These include Anomali, IBM Security, Proofpoint, Rapid7, Imperva, Contrast Security, Synopsys, Nisos and Agio. In 2020, on the back of the growing level of cyber security expertise within Northern Ireland, Microsoft chose it as the location for a new Cyber Security Centre.

    Northern Ireland is also home to a number of international financial services companies such as Allstate, Aflac and CME, which have located their Cyber Security Operation Centres in Belfast.

    We also have a strong cluster of locally grown firms such as Metacompliance, Angoka, Salt Communications, Ampliphae, Skurio, Ansec IA, BSecur, Loughtec and Vertical Structure that are making a name for themselves worldwide. 

    All these firms rely on having access to a pool of talented and well-qualified staff, and that is something that Northern Ireland delivers in spades.

    Top-level education and skills

    Northern Ireland is considered to be a leading region for cyber security education and skills development and we punch well above our weight in cyber employment; 4% of the UK cyber professionals work in Northern Ireland but we have only 2.8% of the UK population. Our education system is recognised as among the best in Europe and a number of vocational courses at our Further Education colleges, as well as academic courses at undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD level, have been developed by our universities in partnership with industry to ensure a pipeline of relevant skills.

    The Assured Skills programme has played an important role, enabling those who already have a degree qualification to enter the cyber security workforce by undertaking the Cyber Security Assured Skills Programme. Unique to Northern Ireland, the programme is fully funded by the government and is delivered by local universities and colleges. Companies such as Synopsys, PwC, Whitehat and Microsoft are among those that have used it.

    Moreover, according to the UK Cyber Security Skills Report, Northern Ireland is one of the most affordable regions in the UK for securing cyber security talent.

    Targeted government support

    Cyber security is a key sector for Invest Northern Ireland and we provide a range of financial incentives and support schemes to underpin its growth. This includes financial support to encourage employment, training and research and development.

    For international companies that are new to Northern Ireland, Invest NI provides a “landing service” to help them to secure property, manage talent onboarding and to integrate quickly into the local technology ecosystem.

    Invest NI also supports collaborative work such as the partnership between BT and the Ulster University at the BT Ireland Innovation Centre, which is undertaking research and development in a range of areas including in the cyber security space.

    Building on success

    We know that international companies that have already invested in a Northern Ireland presence tend to reinvest because of the positive experience that they have. Boston-based Rapid7 is one such example. The company set up a Software Development Centre in Belfast in 2014, creating 75 jobs. The centre now employs in the region of 430 across a range of functions and is the company’s largest research and development centre globally. 

    It is just one of many cyber security companies that recognise the benefits that Northern Ireland has to offer: the high quality of skills; competitive operating costs; world-class universities; high-speed telecoms links and effective government support.

    Our ambition is to continue to support the growth of the cyber security sector in Northern Ireland in the coming years, helping to achieve the target of 5000 cyber security professionals in the region by 2030 that has been set by the UK Government. 

    So the announcement in February that theUK Government is investing £18.9 million to boost Northern Ireland’s cyber security capability even further is welcome. The investment will see the creation of a new Cyber-AI Hub at CSIT, creating jobs, helping to ensure a pipeline of world-class cyber professionals and supporting the research and development of AI-enabled cyber security projects.

    Find out more about the cyber security sector in Northern Ireland. Visit

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