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Benoît Dupont
Benoît Dupont - Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity
Part of the Spotlight on Montreal’s Cybersecurity Industry

Cybersecurity: Both a Huge Risk and Opportunity

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Takeaways

  1. Cybersecurity represents both a huge risk for public and private organizations alike, but also a massive $1.7 trillion business and economic development opportunity.
  2. AI, quantum computing and human-centric cybersecurity are the forces that will shape the sector over the next 5-10 years of its growth.
  3. Montreal is well positioned as a global cybersecurity hub thanks to a variety of strengths, including its world-class universities, top talent, leading AI and video game sectors.

Action

The Prime Minister must understand that cybersecurity is much more important than we assume. It is about creating jobs but also protecting democratic values that are being seriously challenged in this day and age. Our governments must therefore enact policies that weave cybersecurity into the fabric of everything digital happening in Canada.


How would you characterize the extent of the global cybersecurity risk and opportunity?

The level of global risk is extremely high at the moment and cyber attacks have become a fact of life for many organizations. For example, governments are increasingly targeting the critical infrastructure of their adversaries and cybercriminals are deploying very sophisticated tools that are often developed by governments and leaked by their adversaries. And yet, many other organizations do not even know or understand the need for them to build out their defenses and to enhance the efficacy of their cybersecurity detection tools. Beyond that, organizations also need to start thinking about how they would manage the aftermath of a very destructive cyber attack, such as the many high-profile examples we have seen. So, all organizations, public and private, have to be aware of this extremely high risk. 

“Cybersecurity will be a $1.7 trillion market globally so there are many opportunities for companies to offer services and products in this space.”

We are more dependent on digital tools than ever but these digital tools are less and less secure. There are many technologies under development and others already marketed to consumers and to organizations that have very limited consideration for security. Because of this, many companies and many public organizations, such as municipalities, are vastly underprepared and are playing catch up at the moment. So I think we should be very worried about the potential consequences of lax cybersecurity and we should prepare for its consequences much more than we currently are.

At the same time, this is a major business and economic opportunity. Estimates are that cybersecurity will be a $1.7 trillion market globally so there are many opportunities for companies to offer services and products in this space.But there are also lots of people peddling snake oil and this is also hurting the market because people are not necessarily trusting what they are buying or the people trying to sell them technologies that have not really demonstrated their effectiveness.


What are some of the trends shaping the cybersecurity industry’s future?

The number one trend shaping the future of cybersecurity is artificial intelligence (AI), and using it to strengthen companies’ defenses – and this is an area where Montreal has a significant advantage.It is difficult for humans to detect and remediate most cybersecurity attacks, so having AI working in complement with cybersecurity professionals will be a major trend over the next few years. Montreal’s AI expertise and ecosystem gives its cybersecurity sector a competitive advantage in this respect.

“The number one trend shaping the future of cybersecurity is artificial intelligence (AI), and using it to strengthen companies’ defences – and this is an area where Montreal has a significant advantage.”

Quantum computing is another technology that will arrive in maybe five or ten years and that will have a significant impact on cybersecurity since it will make all of the security systems we have built obsolete. So we need to quantum-proof our systems so that our current technology continues to protect our information in the future. This is a major opportunity for companies to quantum-proof their customer’s systems and deploy an infrastructure that will ensure our ecosystem does not crumble when quantum computing arrives. Again, Canada’s strong position in quantum computing is a big advantage in this respect.

Finally, we need to develop what I call human-centric cybersecurity. Machines, black boxes and widgets will not solve our problems alone, and we need to develop human-friendly solutions that enable us to make the best cybersecurity decisions. There is a large market for that through awareness campaigns, chatbots, and other tools that will help humans make better cybersecurity decisions. This could be a great potential market for companies.


How strong is the Canadian cybersecurity ecosystem in general, and Montreal’s in particular?

In terms of the cybersecurity and data privacy regulatory environment, Canada and Montreal are very unique in being halfway between Europe and the United States. We have the same concern for privacy and the regulatory framework that enables individuals to have their privacy rights protected as in Europe, but we are grounded in North America and take a hands-off approach, allowing innovation to thrive. Our diversity of perspectives enables us to reach the rest of the world in a very unique way. 

“In terms of the cybersecurity and data privacy regulatory environment, Canada and Montreal are very unique in being halfway between Europe and the United States.”

Canada has excellent universities and the country is punching above our weight in terms of R&D, so we need to capitalize on that. Major tech hubs, such as Montreal’s, need to coordinate the efforts of the private sector, government and academia to generate a vibrant, innovative ecosystem that will continue to make cybersecurity one of Canada’s trademarks. 

Canada also has an amazing level of tech talent. We need to make sure that the same workforce that propelled us to a leadership position in the fields of AI, quantum computing and video gaming contributes to cybersecurity. Any engineer in one of those fields has skills that can be applied to cybersecurity, and I think we will begin to see a convergence of these four areas of digital innovation, which we will be well-equipped to deal with. Montreal, specifically, has a strong ecosystem and deep talent pool when it comes to AI and video games.

“Montreal is very well positioned in terms of the availability of talent. The city is quite unique because it has four universities. And two of our top universities are ranked among the top 100 in the world.”

Montreal is very well positioned in terms of the availability of talent. The city is quite unique because it has four universities. And two of our top universities are ranked among the top 100 in the world.Considering the size of the city, it is remarkable that we have so many universities. The city is very attractive to international students, it is diverse and it offers lots of potential to scale.

In terms of collaboration among ecosystem players, Montreal is excellent as there is a network of cybersecurity professionals who have been working together for twenty years now. Montreal’s diversity of talent will be essential in solving the big cybersecurity challenges of today and tomorrow.

“I see Montreal as one of the top 10 cybersecurity hubs in the world.”

More broadly, we have a number of big telecommunication and financial institutions that are key players in the cybersecurity ecosystem, and the size of those institutions allows them to develop capacity, spend on R&D, invest in talent, and develop innovative solutions with academic partners and start-ups. So, it is a very favourable environment. What we do need more of is medium-sized companies that could grow into world leaders, and we need to be nurturing start-ups into medium-sized and larger-sized companies. This must be focused on more. 

In general, I am very, very optimistic about the future of Montreal’s cybersecurity industry. There are a number of existing initiatives and clusters in Montreal that have started to work together. The ecosystem and the city in general have great energy and great enthusiasm, and we see that cybersecurity is a key area of economic development at the provincial and at a federal level. I see Montreal as one of the top 10 cybersecurity hubs in the world, connected to hubs in California, on the East Coast, in London, Paris, the Hague, Singapore, Australia and beyond, and really occupying a very special spot and providing unique solutions.


What more can Canada do to attract and retain more top international talent to grow our tech and cybersecurity sectors?

We must build a narrative around cybersecurity as a career that is rewarding to youth and a major contributor to the well being of our digital society. This narrative should be pushed as early as elementary school. We must encourage cybersecurity as a vocation from very early years and develop a system where we can quickly identify and nurture talent.

“The Canadian government has been a strong proponent of equality, diversity and inclusion, and we should adapt that to cybersecurity and position Canada as a very diverse cybersecurity nation.”

We also need to bring more women into the profession. At the moment, only around 20% of professionals in cybersecurity are female. Half of the bright young talent in Canada are not considering cybersecurity as a career, so we need to build a narrative around the profession that tells young girls that cybersecurity can do a lot of good for society and we need to do that from a young age. The Canadian government has been a strong proponent of equality, diversity and inclusion, and we should adapt that to cybersecurity and position Canada as a very diverse cybersecurity nation.


What is your advice on what our governments must consider when looking at the future of cybersecurity? How can they support our cybersecurity industry’s growth and position on the international stage?

I do believe that our governments, like many others, do not yet understand the duality in the importance of cybersecurity: it is a major risk but it also represents a fantastic opportunity as a net contributor to the prosperity of our digital economy.

“Provincial governments and municipalities need to enact policies that weave cybersecurity into the fabric of everything digital happening in Canada.”

Yes, if cybersecurity is not addressed properly it can undermine the international competitiveness of the Canadian economy, but at the same time, if properly understood and properly supported and funded by a range of institutions, it can be a fantastic engine for economic development and for strengthening Canada as a digital power. We need to understand this in order to not to be too fatalistic and to avoid talking about cyber-geddon and all the terrible outcomes that actually prevent people from thinking clearly about how we respond to these massive challenges.

For example, Cybersecurity is likely to create more jobs than AI because there is a constant interplay between humans and machines that AI alone will not be able to solve. So, our governments must exercise political leadership to place cybersecurity at the core of our digital economy. We also need to recognize that without cybersecurity many of our innovations will be lost to companies that are very aggressive in terms of stealing our intellectual property (IP). Cybersecurity should become a core component of any innovation strategy, fund or research and development (R&D) program in both universities and the private sector. Provincial governments and municipalities need to enact policies that weave cybersecurity into the fabric of everything digital happening in Canada.

“Cybersecurity is about creating jobs but also protecting democratic values that are being seriously challenged in this day and age.”

Therefore, the Prime Minister must understand that cybersecurity is much more important than we assume. It is not only about risk management. Cybersecurity provides us with a unique opportunity to propel Canada on the international stage as a beacon of democracy by increasing privacy and sovereignty. Investing broadly in cybersecurity will create jobs in Canada while positioning us on the international stage as a power for good. The Prime Minister should see both sides of the coin: cybersecurity is about creating jobs but also protecting democratic values that are being seriously challenged in this day and age.

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Benoît Dupont
Benoît Dupont - Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity

Benoît Dupont is the Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity and founded the Smart Cybersecurity Network in 2014. Currently a Professor of Criminology at Université de Montréal, his research focuses on the governance of security and the use of networked initiatives to enhance online and offline safety. He also investigates the coevolution of crime and technology, with a focus on malicious hackers and cybersecurity policy.


The Smart Cybersecurity Network (SERENE-RISC) is a non-profit that brings together academics from diverse backgrounds to share cutting-edge research on risks, threats and solutions in cybersecurity. It aims to enhance the ability of Canadian businesses and governments to manage cyber risks and increase the resilience of the Canadian digital ecosystem.