UK researchers can apply for new government assistance to help bring cyber security technologies to market, thanks to a competition announced this week.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), together with Innovate UK, the non-departmental public body for UK research and innovation, has set aside up to £800,000 to help academics develop and productise innovations in cyber security.

Projects must protect either information systems, the data on systems, and/or the services provided by those systems, from unauthorised access, harm, misuse, or accidental damage.

The competition is open to anyone based in a UK academic institution, working with the support of their technology transfer office.

Phase 1, supported by industry experts, involves assessing and validating the value of each idea in the commercial market. After this three- to four-month process is complete, a shortlist of ventures will be invited to build a minimum viable project in Phase 2.

The deadline for applications is 6 March 2019, with projects set to begin by 1 April.

A previous competition saw seven teams progress through a three-month market validation phase, establish new ventures, and build working prototypes, said the government.

To enter and find out more about the competition, visit the competition page here.

So what’s the context for the announcement?

The competition is rooted in the UK’s cyber security Strategy. Published in 2016, the Strategy announced plans to invest up to £1.9 billion in securing the UK over five years, alongside the creation of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC).

It also trailed a new series of programmes to address the shortage of cyber security skills in the UK, from schools and universities to the existing workforce.

Among other proposals were the launch of two cyber innovation centres to “drive the development of cutting-edge cyber products and dynamic new cyber security companies”.

However, core to the government’s overall strategy was the principle of deepening ties with international allies, specifically with Europe and NATO. Since then, Brexit uncertainty has deepened, and security, stability, and certainty are intimately related concepts.

While the Five Eyes partnership and other cooperative, international cyber security measures will continue with the UK onboard, long-term membership of Europol, and its subsidiary the European Crime Centre, is in doubt.

Indeed, a November 2018 report in the Independent said that the UK is to lose its seat on Europol’s management board, “despite previously arguing it was ‘critical’ that its role is ‘not weakened’”.

According to that report, the UK has “given up on remaining a member of Europol after Brexit and fears a ‘major drop’ in co-operation in fighting cross-border crime”.

A concern expressed by many in the cyber security industry – and in the technology sector generally – is that Brexit may make it harder to attract international talent to the sector, including to its top universities.

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