OPINION: The foundation for Canada to become a global leader in cybersecurity is set – we must seize the moment now
By Jan De SilvaNews Opinion
Digitalization has been a boon for our economies. The combination of connectivity, data, processing power, and technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and blockchain among others has transformed how we do business, compete globally, and relate with one another. While essential, this transition has not come without significant risk – cyber security breaches are ever-present and lead to devastating consequences for businesses and governments alike.
As our economy struggles to recoup pandemic-related losses, cyber-attacks are an overwhelming financial threat. According to a report from IBM Security, the average cost of a data breach in Canada was $6.75 million per incident in 2021. And incidents – some small, some massive in scale – are cropping up daily.
Throughout the world, businesses are investing heavily in cybersecurity out of necessity. This move is an opportunity for Canada to position itself as a global cybersecurity leader. For this to happen, the federal and provincial governments will need to turbo-charge support for the Canadian tech sector.
It’s hard to understate just how lucrative the cybersecurity world is. In a recent report from PwC, 66 per cent of Canadian organizations reported they expect their cyber budgets to increase in 2022. By 2019, Canadian businesses were already spending $7 billion per year towards managing cyber security incidents. We know that these investments are more valuable for companies, and for the economy, in the long term when spent on detection, mitigation, and prevention of threats, rather than recovering from an attack.
The pandemic further boosted investment growth in the sector as lockdowns forced businesses to digitalize their operations. Countless small and medium-sized businesses suddenly found themselves embracing digital transformation in a way that had been inconceivable in pre-pandemic times, opening them up to new, and potentially crippling, cybercrime risks.
Israel is a well-known example of how a mid-size economic power made smart investments and actively encouraged collaborations and cluster talent. Its government took an active role in connecting businesses and universities, which allowed the country to become a globally recognized cybersecurity powerhouse, and whose cybersecurity startups raised $8.84 billion last year, tripling its size compared to 2020.
In Canada, significant cybersecurity clusters are in place. For example, in New Brunswick, the private sector, academic community, and provincial government are collectively driving its innovation and expertise. In 2017, IBM partnered with the University of New Brunswick to launch the Canadian Institute for Cybersecurity. Subsequent investments from IBM created hundreds of cybersecurity jobs in the province.
NB-based startup, Beauceron Security launched in 2015 inside the University of New Brunswick when local IT experts transformed a personal project into an innovative, web-based cyber risk technology that had higher education institutions across the country and the City of Fredericton among its impressive list of early adopters.
In Ontario, the province has united its impressive cybersecurity clusters in growing hubs like Toronto, Waterloo, and Ottawa with similar centres of excellence like Ryerson University’s Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst in Brampton.
The federal government is starting to take notice too. In its recently tabled 2022 federal Budget, the government pledged $875.2 million in funding for the Communications Security Establishment over five years “to address the rapidly evolving cyber threat landscape.” In February, it committed $80 million to Canada’s National Cybersecurity Consortium – a not-for-profit organization that brings together the cybersecurity expertise of five universities from across Canada.
That’s a great start – but more needs to be done.
In addition to funding, our governments must ensure the conditions are in place for active collaboration between regional technology entrepreneurs across cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing to keep our innovation and talent domestic. At the same time, businesses and academia must work to collaborate and develop centres of excellence such as the ones in New Brunswick and Ontario to ensure that both the private-sector investments, research and talent pipelines necessary to grow the industries are in place.
If Canada wants to pursue dominance in cybersecurity, this will mean exporting our cybersecurity expertise to allies and leveraging our trade partnerships to further bolster sector demand.
I participate as one of Canada’s three representatives to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Advisory Council – a forum that brings together economies and business leaders from across the Pacific Rim for greater collaboration. I see how APEC member economies are hungry for access to cybersecurity talent and regional collaboration to enable inclusive growth for their businesses – of all sizes – in the digital economy.
We are working to help create the conditions for Canada to show economic and governance leadership in cybersecurity, exporting cutting edge technology while influencing global regulatory norms.
There is an opportunity for Canada to become a recognized global leader in this exciting and booming industry. We have taken critical first steps and we’re excited about going even further as part of our chance to seize our future. If we don’t lead, another will. I say it should be Canada.
Jan De Silva is the Chair of the APEC Business Advisory Council’s Digital Working Group and President and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade.
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