a digital fingerprint with code coming off it in a futuristic stream
Amir Belkhelladi
National Cyber Leader - Deloitte Canada
Part of the Spotlight on Montreal’s Cybersecurity Industry

Collaboration is Key to Our Competitive Edge in Cybersecurity

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Takeaways

  1. Cybersecurity is a risk to everyone. Canadians must collaborate across industries and governments to form a united front on cybersecurity in order to keep the country safe.
  2. Canada’s education system, cybersecurity expertise, access to the wider tech industry, and the variety of industries in our economy provide us with a huge cybersecurity advantage and opportunity.
  3. The diversity, size, talent and collaborative spirit of Montreal’s tech sector make it advantageous to cybersecurity firms.

Action

Government, industry, researchers and startups need to come together and pool their resources to strengthen Canada’s cybersecurity industry to pull ahead of our competitors and become a leader in the international cybersecurity industry.


What sectors of the Canadian economy are most at risk for cyber attacks, and which are best prepared to defend against them?

In my experience, everyone is at risk. The skill in cybersecurity is identifying risk and managing it. No one can be fully protected, but everyone must understand their position, deal with it, and minimize the impact of an attack if it happens to them.

In Canada, attacks are targeting the political landscape, the strategic and military landscape, and the public sector. Cyber criminals aren’t purely targeting the economy – they are after what makes our world work. So everyone is at risk, and to my knowledge Canada is no more at risk than other advanced nations. However, when we look at the wave of attacks and their pervasiveness in the future, the onus is on us to work well as a society and improve our cybersecurity. We must be very coordinated, otherwise this is a losing battle. 

“Cyber criminals aren’t purely targeting the economy – they are after what makes our world work.”

That said, there are areas that are more inherently valuable to attackers. If a sector is rich in intellectual property, it is more likely to be targeted. The financial services sector has been at risk for a long time now. This is a sector I have been involved with for over 20 years, and it has been investing huge amounts in cybersecurity. Financial services is followed quickly be the energy and resources sector. Oil and gas is a good example of a sector that has been a strategic target for some time, and has made protecting its digital environment a priority. The next industry is defense, which has invested significantly in protection. However, it is a sector that also needs to invest in active defense. One of the ways to defend better is to know how to attack, and the future of the defense sector will also be in active defense.


Is Canada internationally competitive when it comes to cybersecurity?

Canada is at a unique point where we have huge opportunity ahead of us in cybersecurity. This is due to education, expertise, access to the wider tech industry, and the variety of industries in our economy that gives us a practical understanding of cybersecurity needs. It is rare to have this combination of forces all at one time, while the economy is doing well and Canada has a strong international reputation. This is important because Canada tends to be one of the first nations that others turn to when they need assistance. Other countries that are strong in cybersecurity are the US, Israel, France, Korea and Russia. But these countries do not receive the same praise and respect as Canada. 

“Canada is at a unique point where we have huge opportunity ahead of us in cybersecurity. This is due to education, expertise, access to the wider tech industry, and the variety of industries in our economy that gives us a practical understanding of cybersecurity needs.”

To capitalize on this opportunity we must continue accelerating and strengthening collaboration in our cybersecurity ecosystem, get closer to each other, and simplify cyber knowledge for our citizens, our organizations and our economy so we can all move forward together. We have to work better together to take advantage of this opportunity.


How do you rank the Montreal cybersecurity ecosystem in Canada? Does it offer unique advantages to the sector?

Montreal is both a big city and a tight ecosystem. The diversity of the city also allows us to connect and respect differing perspectives. Montreal’s diversity is essential if you want to lead in cybersecurity, because you need highly creative and competitive people if you want to win.

“Montreal’s diversity is essential if you want to lead in cybersecurity, because you need highly creative and competitive people if you want to win.”

Although Montreal is a leader in cybersecurity, the question is how do leaders across the country work together so that we can win? The competition is not Toronto, Calgary or Vancouver – it is outside of Canada. We need to work together to win the cybersecurity battle. Collaboration is essential for Montreal, it is essential for Quebec and it is essential for Canada. It allows us to stay ahead of our international competitors.

Deloitte is a founding member of CyberEco, a coalition of large organizations working to develop cybersecurity solutions, which is based in Montreal. We are trying to better educate our citizens and our ecosystem, to better use our resources and advance our research, and to attract investment to the city. The reason why investors are attracted to Montreal is because they can see that our cybersecurity ecosystem is organized. That is why we are encouraging  collaboration between industry leaders, universities, the public sector and smaller companies.To be strong in cybersecurity everyone must be aware and ready to make progress.

“The reason why investors are attracted to Montreal is because they can see that our cybersecurity ecosystem is organized. That is why we are encouraging collaboration between industry leaders, universities, the public sector and smaller companies.”

Montreal’s strengths in artificial intelligence (AI) are a valuable asset to our cybersecurity sector. Montreal is a big hub for AI and its AI organizations and companies are currently looking at the best use cases for AI technology. Cybersecurity is going to give AI businesses many opportunities to create such use cases. Our job is to organize those connections so we can make the best use of the variety of expertise in Montreal’s tech ecosystem, and therefore punch above our weight.

“Montreal has many professors specializing in operational technology security, as well as research chairs in cyber criminology and academics that understand the human element of cyber, which includes the study of psychology and the law. These are two fields where we have an advantage.”

Montreal also has many research institutions and probably the most cybersecurity researchers in Canada. We have a number of research chairs in what we call operational technology security. If you are a utility, like an electricity or water company, protecting those systems will require very specific expertise. Montreal has many professors specializing in operational technology security, as well as research chairs in cyber criminology and academics that understand the human element of cyber, which includes the study of psychology and the law. These are two fields where we have an advantage.

We need to leverage our local expertise. Cybersecurity will be in everything that we do, so if we have a local economy with experts in a certain field, we must use that field as a bridge into cybersecurity.


What collaborations is Montreal’s cybersecurity ecosystem focusing on?

A good example that we use often is about two financial services leaders who compete each day for their customers in the local marketplace. From a cybersecurity perspective, they both recognize they would do better if their consumers were better protected. When the consumers are under attack, everyone suffers. Therefore, joining forces and putting our energy and resources together to protect everyone makes a stronger community. To make this community prosper and grow the message is very simple: all hands on deck. Whether you are a researcher, small organization or startup, we have to put our differences aside, get together and aim to make Montreal, Quebec and Canada a safer place. And that is what we are aiming at with CyberEco.


What challenges exist for the cybersecurity industry and how can we solve them?

I often tell my clients that the good news with cybersecurity is that the business case for it is made by others, so you do not have to fight hard to make it. The organization where I worked three years ago planned to spend over $800 million on cybersecurity defense. Cybersecurity investments are likely to get bigger and faster as the threats to our companies and nations accelerate, so investment is not a challenge for us.

As with all tech sectors, the main concern is always talent, expertise, resources and capabilities. We, and every tech hub, will always need more talents in the space. This is one of the goals of CyberEco: to find clever ways to efficiently train more world-class experts and attract the best international talent.

“One of the initiatives we have put in place is to work with universities to ensure they are producing the talent the cybersecurity sector needs now.”

One of the initiatives we have put in place is to work with universities to ensure they are producing the talent the cybersecurity sector needs now. We are already doing this work with large educational institutions, but the objective for us at some point is to help teachers in high schools develop cybersecurity classes that include coding and cybersecurity principles. This is absolutely essential for our future success, to create a critical mass of expertise around cybersecurity.