Blog Article 17 May 2018
Cork’s cybersecurity credentials to the fore

When Keeper Security set up its first European operations in late December, it chose Cork as its location – but its decision wasn’t out of the ordinary. The password management company joined a growing roster of cybersecurity companies operating in the greater Cork area, including AlienVault, Cylance, eSentire, FireEye, Malwarebytes, McAfee, Sophos, Trend Micro and Trustev/TransUnion. You could say that Ireland’s second city is a hidden gem for cybersecurity.

The numbers bear this out. All told, there are close to 60 overseas technology companies in Cork, in manufacturing, software development and global business services. More than 1,000 people work in the Cork area either with pure-play cybersecurity companies or others with specific security teams. Trend Micro was the first pure-play security company to set up in Cork 15 years ago, and now it employs 250 people. McAfee employs more than 350 people at its Cork site, which includes a security operations centre and engineering team. Others in this group are Cylance, Malwarebytes, FireEye, eSentire, Alienvault, Sophos, TransUnion, Smarttech and Keeper Security. Since 2013, pure-play companies have announced 650 new jobs in Cork. 

Adding to the activity are the companies that are growing their security-related teams in the Cork area. This group includes Qualcomm, IBM, Clearstream, Johnson Controls, VMware, UTRC, Dell EMC, Inhance, McKesson, Apple, Amazon and Nuix. 

When Keeper announced its news, IDA Ireland CEO Martin Shanahan spoke of Cork’s “compelling business environment” that would continue to attract investment from security companies. He specifically referred to the city’s technology infrastructure, talent pool and supportive academic network. 

Sec in the city
All of those factors are borne out by the experiences of the companies already based in the city. Marcin Kleczynski is the founder of the award-winning US cybersecurity company Malwarebytes, which opened its new European headquarters in Cork during April 2016. Speaking on the Securing Business podcast, Kleczynski said his company looked at other locations like Dublin, London, cities in Germany and even Tallinn in Estonia before settling on Ireland’s second city. 

“There are so many great companies here: Trend Micro, FireEye, McAfee – even VMWare is a security company – but on top of that, there’s Apple and EMC/RSA, so there was a lot of talent to choose from, and the competition for such talent is a little bit less crowded than it was in Dublin. Cork is pretty much accessible, so all those factors contributed to our choice and we haven’t really looked back,” he said. 

That’s been the experience of the Japanese cybersecurity company Trend Micro. Marianne Lee, the company’s senior HR director for Europe, says Cork offers international investors a very competitive package. “Cork has a very strong value proposition from a European perspective: availability of relevant skills in tech, languages, customer focus and management experience, plus links with education and the ecosystem of companies in the area. And then when you look at salaries and see how competitive they are compared to other European locations it becomes a question of ‘why not’,” she says.

“Cork has a very strong value proposition from a European perspective: availability of relevant skills in tech, languages, customer focus and management experience, plus links with education and the ecosystem of companies in the area. And then when you look at salaries and see how competitive they are compared to other European locations it becomes a question of ‘why not’,” 

Marianne Lee, Trend Micro senior HR director for Europe

In the 15 years since Trend Micro became the first security company to set up in Cork, it has grown from just 30 employees working in backoffice and operational roles to now employing 250 people. Close to two-thirds of its staff are in customer-facing roles, many requiring technical skills. The site’s IT team has a brief to explore innovative technology that the entire company can use to make its own business more efficient. Some of the other staff are in highly specialised niche areas like cybersecurity research and threat analysis. Although based in Cork, these staffers have global roles.

Cork’s continuum
Lee was one of the company’s first hires in Cork and since then, she has seen the city enter a kind of virtuous circle: the more companies locate there, the better the amenities become, which in turn makes it easier to attract employees to live and work there. 

Lee doesn’t foresee a war for talent as Cork enhances its cybersecurity credentials. In fact, she believes it will increase the available pool of skilled staff. “You’re always competing for talent, and that’s healthy, but the ecosystem of companies in Cork means we’re creating a natural training ground for tech talent. For example, if your first job was with VMWare and now you want to step into a support role with Trend Micro, it’s a very natural synergistic relationship. There’s definitely enough talent in Cork, or that are willing to move to Cork, for us to feel that we don’t have to poach from our competitors. If anything, it puts more relevant skills into the marketplace,” she says. 

Academic and industry crossover
With an eye on future skills needs, Cork’s colleges have proved to be very responsive in delivering industry-ready graduates and adding new Masters’ degree courses to the curriculum specifically aimed at cybersecurity and related fields. University College Cork has been very active in this area, as has Cork Institute of Technology. “This is a really supportive ecosystem. That has worked out well in terms of academic and industry collaboration,” commented Ray O’Connor, IDA Ireland regional business development manager for the South-West.

Some of the Cork-based security companies have begun working more closely with third-level institutes and universities to ensure a steady supply of new talent. Canadian cybersecurity company, eSentire, which set up in Cork in 2015, created an annual bursary for Cork Institute of Technology computing students. Trend Micro has also developed internship programmes with several universities in the Munster region including UCC. This collaboration between industry and academia also covers course development, input into new Masters’ degree programmes, and adjunct lecturers who bring their industry experience. 

Expanding ecosystem
No ecosystem is complete without startup activity, and Cork has made its contribution here too. Two local companies, Trustev and Barricade, attracted interest and ultimately acquisition from multinationals TransUnion and Sophos respectively. More recently, the International Security Accelerator, supported by the Cork Business Incubation Centre, has started investing in early-stage companies in this space. That covers not just pure-play cybersecurity but also startups involved in the Internet of Things, blockchain, AI, health and bioinformatics, defence, critical infrastructure, financial services and logistics. The burgeoning sector has even spawned CorkSec, an information security meetup for anyone interested in all things cybersecurity. 

Little wonder that Tim Horgan, head of CIT’s department of computer science, recently described Cork as “fast becoming the information security capital of Ireland”. 

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