New Zealand is both trusted and trusting – good and bad factors if we want to move into the high-tech cyber space and become the Seattle of the South. 

Auckland has won the right to host the International Privacy, Security and Trust Conference at the end of next year – so as well as basking in the spotlight of hosting the women’s cricket and rugby world cups, the city will also be the centre of the tech world’s attention.

The conference will draw some of the world’s biggest experts in cyber-security, and will give Auckland a chance to push for becoming a tech hub – the Seattle of the South.

Professor Hossein Sarrafzadeh, now a cybersecurity lecturer at New York’s St Bonaventure University but a New Zealand resident of 20 years and formerly at Auckland’s Unitec Institute of Technology, was one of two experts behind Auckland’s bid for hosting rights.

He says one of New Zealand’s biggest selling points when it comes to technology is that it’s trusted. But the fact that we are also trusting, can be a disadvantage. “We are a soft target.”

“But we are also a trusted nation and that creates a lot of opportunities for us because people don’t trust a lot of other countries. But New Zealand, I think a lot of people would be more comfortable having their data housed in New Zealand. So building data centres in New Zealand, held by New Zealand companies, would be the way to go to tap into cybersecurity opportunities.

“We have an asset of trust that we’re not selling.”

Global security expert Professor Hossein Sarrafzadeh. Photo: Supplied

The global cyber security market is expected to double from $126 billion today to more than $251 billion in 10 years. Sarrafzadeh says we’re still not taking it seriously enough.

“We’ve created a virtual world,” he says, “so we’ve got parallel universes. We have secured our physical world – we’ve got locks, we have security alarms – but in the virtual world we haven’t done that. Cybersecurity is about keeping digital locks, keeping your digital belongings secure.”

CERT NZ, which makes quarterly reports on the New Zealand “threat landscape” and says last year 4740 incidents were reported to it, a 38 percent increase on 2018.

Sarrafzadeh says we face a skills shortage in cyber security, and one thrust of the conference next year is to encourage more women to become keyboard warriors. We have good cyber security programmes, but the numbers enrolled in them across the country have remained relatively static over recent years. A large proportion are international students, who are more likely to be lost to overseas when they graduate.

“There’s a big gap in the training and technology to keep us secure,” says Sarrafzadeh.

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