Secure in the knowledge

Phil Parry looks at the rise of data in Wales and what this means for the security industry.

The security industry is big business and could be a huge money-spinner for Wales. New technology has made the issue more pertinent than ever.

During the party conference season you can be very sure many hundreds of text messages and computer emails have been exchanged. All of these should be secure and in years to come they may well be. Perhaps the Conservative MP Brooks Newmark could have used more security when he responded to text pictures of young women posing as political interns.

Even 10 years ago estimates from the think-tank the OECD – basically a club for rich countries – put the worldwide turnover of the security industry at almost $120 billion dollars and it has grown hugely since then.

In April the Welsh government managed to tempt the US cloud security firm Alert Logic to base their European centre in Cardiff with their data centre in Newport. 130 jobs were created with a financial package of £1.15 million. Cloud computing – which could well represent the future in information storage – provides a key opportunity for Wales. It will mean, effectively, that all our computers become simply screens and the data we use is drawn down from a storage unit somewhere around the globe.

At the moment all the data is stored in vast warehouse-like structures in Texas or the West of America, but it could be a great opportunity for Wales and local authorities and the Welsh government need to get wise to that fact. There is a lot of underused space here which could be ideal for cloud computing data storage.

This could provide enormous job opportunities in areas that need the work, like the heads of the valleys.But all that information has to be stored securely – and that’s where the security industry comes in. The Welsh government are right to target firms like Alert Logic and right to see the security industry as a way forward.

But it is a strange world, and one that I do not fully understand.

Several years ago I was engaged in a highly sensitive investigation for a Panorama television programme in which we questioned the guilt of a man convicted of a multiple murder, and highlighted instead the unorthodox behaviour of a senior police officer at the scene.The broadcast authorities I worked for were, understandably, concerned about the security of production personnel, and me in particular, given that a police officer would have easy access to my whereabouts and gain information about my movements.

The BBC, who I worked for then, to their credit, paid for a new burglar alarm system to be fitted at my house and a security expert to conduct a detailed investigation into the risk to me and my family. He interviewed me at length and it became obvious he was most concerned with my movements, and those of my children – how they were picked up from school and by whom that sort of thing. These, I then realised, were key pieces of information for any potential kidnappings.

Security of information in “cloud computing” is different but the principle is the same. Information about identity must be held securely.

Last week the information security world was rocked yet again by a major vulnerability in a little known piece of software called the ‘shellshock’ bug. American security services have given it the highest severity rating because it allows, in effect, unauthorised disclosure of information on ‘Linux’, or open-source, systems.

Coming so soon after Chelsea Manning, the American soldier who received a 35 year jail term for passing information on computer files to Wikileaks, this could prove hugely embarrassing for the US government.

Manning’s mother Sharon in Haverfordwest meanwhile, has told her child never to give up hope.

It is vital all the information is held securely but if this can be guaranteed, as far as you ever can, there is no reason why Wales should not become part of the revolution in the storage of online information.

Phil Parry is the Editor of Wales Eye (www.waleseye.com).

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