With its impressive cybersecurity strength and talent development history, New Brunswick is implementing a strategy to become the world’s most innovative and collaborative cybersecurity ecosystem by 2030.
New Brunswick became a hotbed of cybersecurity early in the century when the University of New Brunswick staffers Sandy Bird, Chris Newton and Dwight Spencer founded Q1 Labs to prevent cyberattacks on large networks. After IBM bought Q1 (reportedly for more than $600 million) in 2012, it kept its global cybersecurity research and development headquarters in Fredericton, which became the cornerstone of a growing cybersecurity hub.
Today, the cluster includes institutions like the National Cybersecurity Consortium and Canadian Institute of Cybersecurity (CIC), as well as large corporations like IBM and Germany’s Siemens. Siemens Canada recently inaugurated its Critical Infrastructure Defense Center in Fredericton - the first Siemens facility of its kind dedicated to critical infrastructure protection focused on operations technology. Then there are the startups – the companies that aspire to be the next Q1 Labs.
It isn’t easy to overstate the importance of the cybersecurity industry and the opportunity it represents for New Brunswick. Cyberattacks are on the rise and threaten society as more essential services – from banks to hospitals to government agencies – move online. The market intelligence group Statista estimates that revenue in the global cybersecurity market is projected to reach US$146 billion in 2022. This figure will grow by a compounded 9.7 per cent each year until 2026.
As the home of UNB’s CIC, New Brunswick is a foundational pillar of Canada’s cyber-defences. Established in 2017 to provide a base where researchers and industry could collaborate to build defences against the increasing wave of cyberattacks, CIC started with a staff of 17 and now employs 96 people. Over half are UNB graduate students, and the remainder is faculty, research associates, technical personnel and staff, said the centre’s executive director Dr. Ali Ghorbani.
Partners all over the world
Canada must take a multilateral line of attack to cyber threats and address cybersecurity through a comprehensive approach by academia, government and industry.
CIC works with partners worldwide on projects to advance cybersecurity, aiming to protect systems from criminals who are constantly devising new forms of digital attacks. International businesses such as IBM, Siemens Canada and TD Bank Group have partnered with CIC, providing funding and resources, which includes mentorship for students.
“We also have support from MasterCard with a recent partnership announcement to advance cybersecurity research and training opportunities for the Internet of Things sector,” said Ghorbani.
By looking forward to the needs of a sustainable future, cybersecurity innovation requires trusted alliances and partnerships to stay in front of challenges that did not exist a few years ago.
While the institutions and multinational companies have contributed significantly to the New Brunswick cybersecurity community, homegrown startups are another pillar. These companies are winning customers worldwide and, in the last 18 months, have attracted millions of dollars in investment. Here are just a few:
Sonrai Security – Founded by former Q1 Labs bosses Brendan Hannigan and Sandy Bird, Sonrai helps corporations move their data to the cloud by tying together identity and search solutions. As well as offering comprehensive data security, Sonrai enhances the quality of an organization’s compliance. New York and Fredericton-based Sonrai closed a US$50 million (C$61.9 million) Series C funding round last October, meaning the company raised a total of US$88 million in its first three years.
Gray Wolf Analytics – The Fredericton-based Gray Wolf sells digital forensics software that uses cryptocurrency owners' behavioural and transactional patterns to investigate crimes while preserving the anonymity of legitimate users. The company, whose co-founders include UNB’s Chair for Technology Management and Entrepreneurship, Dr. Dhirendra Shukla, has been raising money though the total has not yet been announced.
TrojAI – Saint John-based TrojAI, which makes cybersecurity software for artificial intelligence systems, closed a $3 million seed round in January, following up on a previous $750,000. TrojAI’s software is designed to prevent cyberattacks hidden in the data used to train artificial intelligence (AI) programs. AI systems learn by being fed reams of information, such as photos, and by searching for patterns, but sophisticated hackers can conceal malware in the same data. The company was recently recognized as one of the 100 most promising AI startups in the world by the New York intelligence group CB Insights.
Beauceron Security – This Fredericton-based company sells enterprise software that trains employees to recognize and avoid cybersecurity threats that rely on “social engineering” -- behavioural manipulation techniques, such as phishing emails. The company raised $1.5 million in 2018 and said its revenues almost doubled in 2020.
More capacity needed
With these companies growing, New Brunswick must expand its talent pipeline for cybersecurity. Specifically, the educational system needs to produce more programmers and specialists in cybersecurity. UNB understands the problem and is acting.
Dr. Paul J. Mazerolle, president and vice-chancellor of UNB, said the university is increasing intake in its faculty of computer science and plans to double the number of undergraduates and triple the number of graduate students.
“We are fortunate to have a highly engaged, thriving cybersecurity ecosystem in New Brunswick,” said Mazerolle. “Cybersecurity professionals are in high demand, and developing this skilled talent pipeline is essential to build a bright and safe future for our province and all Canadians. This is exactly the role that UNB plays.”
The cybersecurity ecosystem includes a collaborative network of more than 50 organizations, world-class cybersecurity infrastructure, supportive governments, a community of academic experts, and a highly-skilled pipeline of talent emerging from our universities and colleges.
Ghorbani, immersed in cybersecurity challenges daily, says the ecosystem must react quickly to the industry's changing landscape to build the right capacity.
“The cybersecurity community in our province must build capacity and develop people with the knowledge and expertise the world needs. We have the skills, the educational institution and the will to do that right here in New Brunswick.”
About the University of New Brunswick
The University of New Brunswick (UNB) is Canada's oldest English-language university and New Brunswick’s only national comprehensive university. Founded in 1785, the multi-campus institution has a rich history and a dynamic focus on innovation, experiential learning and entrepreneurship. UNB has more than 9,500 students from nearly 75 countries, while several thousand more take UNB courses online and at partner institutions worldwide.