Claire Cockerton: the most influential woman in cyber? -TEISS® : Cracking Cyber Security

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Claire Cockerton: the most influential woman in cyber?

I meet Claire Cockerton, CEO and Founder of Plexal, at Here East - a hub of business, tech, media and education - in the heart of London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

Plexal was recently selected by the government to run a £13.5 million cyber innovation centre (launching in July) which will incubate more than 70 startups, pairing them with businesses that seek creative solutions to security challenges.

Claire says it's very exciting for a number of reasons as this is a pillar of the nation's cyber security strategy, to create a London centre to bring together sister accelerators, academia and industry partners to drive cyber security growth for the whole of the UK.  

London is not lacking in entrepreneurial talent, but where we struggle, Claire feels, is in scaling those innovations, securing the commercial talent and some of the technical talent to scale those organisations.

“Part of the agenda for the London Cyber Innovation Centre is how do you take these earlier stage start-ups and put the right talent, the right industry expertise and the right commercial mentoring around them to help start serving the large organisations,” Claire explains.

Cyber security isn’t something we've always thought about as essential to our business operations. “It is only coming to light over the past two years because of the increase in hard data breaches, so larger organisations are realising this needs to be a central part of their infrastructure,” she adds.

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The cyber skills problem

According to research from Bridewell Consulting, only 38 per cent of security and resilience teams in the UK feel they have adequate resources to meet the demands placed upon them. Nearly three-quarters of information security hiring managers said they were finding it difficult to recruit staff.

Claire feels it's particularly challenging for the cyber security industry because the technical skills are very particular.

Plexal hopes to address this problem from all angles. It’s teamed with Deloitte and their cyber security experts, as well as CSIT who'll be providing engineering skills. University College London is setting up a campus nearby which, Claire hopes, will be an additional source of skills and academia. They also hope to be drawing talent from across the UK and internationally.  

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Interriour of Plexal, Near East, StratfordInside Plexal 

Cyber security training

“If you ask a security company what they are lacking, it's that they cannot scale without easy access to their technical skills. We're finding that some university degrees are having to rethink some of their programming because there is insufficient cyber security course content,” Claire highlights.

There are now training academies being set up, she explains, that sit alongside other types of programming that are looking at how to apply design skills to cyber security, as well as how to apply engineering skills to the cyber security sector.

From a skills perspective, Claire thinks digital skills’ training should start as early as primary school.

“As GDPR comes into effect, we see our kids operating their entire lives online, how do they protect themselves, their identity, their information and the ideas that they share?

“Furthermore, as we navigate towards Brexit, we need to think about how we can ensure the smooth movement of technical talent from the European nations,” she emphasises.

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Innovation and cyber security

But, I ask, is innovation really compatible with cyber security?

Claire wholeheartedly believes the two go hand in hand.

“The threat is moving and the target is moving. It's not a static challenge which means we always need to be thinking about our systems and whether they’re fit for purpose and how we can make them more resilient,” Claire believes.

She says that we will never stop innovating as long as companies are chasing the competitive edge and trying to service customer needs which are always changing. “We need to be constantly evaluating risk, as well as the size and location of that risk, and constantly thinking about how we protect ourselves operating in that space,” she says.

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The vision for the London Cyber Innovation Centre

Claire sees the London Cyber Innovation Centre as a platform for the UK ecosystem and a convening force for industry. “We need to coordinate and collaborate better because I think cyber security experts are sometimes isolated and there are incredible pockets of expertise across the UK – Manchester, Bristol, Cheltenham, London. So for me it's about UK wide collaboration,” she states.

As Claire takes me on a brief tour of the hub, I can feel the palpable energy of innovation. The space is inviting, spacious and playful, bedecked with greenery, art and its own meditation space. It makes me feel hopeful for our future.

For more information about Plexal, go to 

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Anna Delaney

Anna Delaney is the Editor in Chief of the TEISS cyber security website. She has previously worked for BBC, Levant TV, Resonance FM and ITV.

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