Protecting the supply chain

Written by Colin Marrs on 25 May 2014 in Opinion
Opinion

Graeme Stewart says that councils can play a key role in protecting small and medium enterprises from ICT security threats.

The UK’s high tech business hubs dominate entire local economies – bringing revenue, jobs and education to both the private and public sector, including local government authorities. The result being a highly skilled and specialised community of employees.

Small enterprises, clustered around the major facilities of large manufacturers, play a crucial part in these local economies, feeding into the supply chain of product and citizen service delivery.

However, the very small businesses at the core of a growing and prosperous economy could unwittingly bring entire technology hubs to a grinding standstill and cause devastation across local communities – and here’s why:

The UK is home to some of the world’s manufacturing giants. The McLaren Group, for example, employs over 1,800 people, making it one of the largest employees in Surrey – contributing an estimated £153.9 million to the UK economy in 2009.

The company prides itself in diversifying the economic offering of Woking, where 23 percent of its workforce live, making the area’s economy and jobs profile more balanced and competitive, and therefore resilient to economic downturn.

Manufacturing giants bring a host of benefits to their local communities – from their contribution to the economy, to extensive training and skills initiatives.

Both hubs have also seen a network of small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) clusters build up around their facilities – precision-based suppliers and traditional craft industries with specialised offerings, making them an integral part of the supply chain.

In fact, a new generation of high tech SMEs have started creating their very own technology hubs – such as the Silicon Roundabout at London’s Old Street. Rubbing shoulders with tech giants including Google, Amazon and Facebook, the area saw 15,720 companies launch in one year alone – becoming a first choice for high-growth US companies looking to open a European HQ and start-ups alike.

It is expected that in this symbiotic and highly specialised landscape those companies with strong IP and unique manufacturing capabilities will continue to grow, whereas weaker suppliers will struggle.

Those SMEs that do succeed as suppliers will be closely tied to the main manufacturer in the area – bringing strong benefits but also making suppliers and the local community alike vulnerable to changes in the business cycle or technology shifts in the industry.

This is now being felt in the North West of England where BAE Systems has reduced the production of manned jets and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

More worryingly however, the very IP that enables growth and boosts the local economy is hugely vulnerable.

Cybercriminals are increasingly specialising in targeting these smaller, often less protected players in the race to get to into the networks – and to the critical IP – of the global giants.

A single breach could not only cause devastation to the SME compromised, but in turn see the entire chain of local enterprises up to the lead manufacturer or government department tumble and fall – reverberating through the local authorities, country and ultimately the global technology community.

The cyber risk to the supply chain is very real – and it is growing by the minute. In fact, there is an entire network of underworld cybercriminals working together to make a lucrative trade, offering tools and services to make attacks quicker, easier and more successful.

Smaller suppliers often have neither the awareness nor means to adequately protect their networks from an intruder – and they should not be left alone in dealing with this problem given the potential wider impact.

Central and local governments need to educate and assist in securing the full supply chain of the UK’s technology hubs – taking care of the livelihoods of the local population as well as the UK’s economic wellbeing.

With the government looking to rebuild the economy, from the ground up, government and security experts need to work together to embed a highly secure, skilled and robust supply chain into the foundations of Britain’s future growth – rather than build a house of sand that could tumble at any moment.

The UK has some of the most innovative and promising high tech companies in the world – it is up to local authorities, central government and the industry to ensure this asset will be Britain’s secret weapon, rather than its Achilles heel.

Graeme Stewart is director of public sector strategy and relations, UK and Ireland, McAfee

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