£6m cyber security scheme to protect SMEs from computer attacks

A £6m cyber security scheme that will protect Greater Manchester’s small and medium-sized companies against malicious computer attacks is being launched.

Cyber attacks pose a £860m risk to the region’s businesses each year, as estimated by the Lloyds City Risk Register, and with Greater Manchester’s digital aspirations continuing to grow, cyber reliance becomes ever more important.

Last year’s WannaCry ransomware virus demonstrated the potentially catastrophic impact caused when cyber defences are breached.

To combat these threats universities in the region, led by Manchester Metropolitan University, with the universities of Lancaster, Manchester and Salford, will join forces in an initiative known as the GM Cyber Foundry, which will apply research in cyber security to create new products and services for SMEs.

It is vitally important for the region to protect its vibrant digital and creative sector, which generates more than £3bn in economic output each year, and to ensure that it can operate securely.

Manchester is growing as a centre for digital excellence, as seen with the opening of a Government Communications Agency site (GCHQ) in the city next year.

The GM Cyber Foundry has now been approved by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, which allocated £3m of European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funding to the scheme.

Manchester Metropolitan vice-chancellor, Prof Malcolm Press, said: “The GM Cyber Foundry will play a key role in protecting the region’s businesses, and preparing them for future digital challenges.

“Universities have an important part to play in ensuring SMEs can thrive by transferring cutting-edge technology, research and bespoke products directly to those who need it.

“Our strong relationships with business in the city-region, partnered with quality research in this area, ensure that Manchester Metropolitan is ideally placed to lead on this important initiative.”

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “Through the work of the Cyber Foundry, our world-leading universities are giving start-ups and SMEs the freedom they need to create and innovate, but within digital environments that are safe and secure from cyber criminals.

“With over £25m being invested in fibre broadband connectivity, a planned £5m Cyber Innovation Centre, and the new GCHQ site, Greater Manchester is both a major hub for digital development and research, and a trusted place to do business.”

He added: “Greater Manchester is a rapidly expanding software and technology hotbed, and we’re perfectly positioned to become one of the top-five digital city-regions in Europe.”

Strong cyber security is also essential for other important sectors in Greater Manchester – such as finance and banking and Industry 4.0 applications – where cyber physical systems are deployed.

Manchester Metropolitan University, Lancaster University, the University of Manchester and the University of Salford are working with businesses in this area, vital for Greater Manchester’s digital infrastructure.

A selection of such projects include improving cyber security in blockchain and Internet of Things applications, enhancing security of cyber physical systems, increasing encryption efficiency, increasing cyber threat intelligence in systems, improving ‘cyber hygiene’ to maintain online security, and improving the design of security systems to help users.

This programme matches the research strengths of each university to business needs. Projects, therefore, can be developed in a targeted and streamlined way through business development intervention.

It will also enable cyber security research capability, which is in great demand in the region, to be managed efficiently.

Project principal investigator Keith Miller, head of strategic partnerships in the School of Computing, Mathematics and Digital Technology at Manchester Metropolitan, said: “By working with colleagues in universities across the North West we’re able to apply our research strengths in cyber security to make a genuine impact for businesses in Greater Manchester.

“It will give cyber security researchers in Manchester Metropolitan’s Centre for Advanced Computational Science the opportunity to create a safer virtual environment for business.”

The project will receive £3m from the ERDF via the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, with partners delivering a further £3m in matched funding.