“If we want Wales to be at the vanguard of the high-tech revolution, we need to up our stakes – and our vision must be global”
The Welsh government and French aerospace and security multinational Thales Group have teamed up to build a new National Digital Centre in Blaenau Gwent, South Wales, investing £10 million each into the project which will be operated by Thales.
The centre will have four departments: an advanced Cyber Institute, Applied Digital Trust Environment, Project Zone and A Digital Education Centre.
The Project Zone and Applied Digital Trust Environment will be used by Thales to pursue projects in Wales, but its main function will be to act as an innovation cyber test centre for an array of business proposals.
Gareth Williams VP, Secure Communications and Information Systems at Thales UK, told Computer Business Review in a call that it’s a “break it, fix it, scale it lab.”
Williams used the hypothetical example of a predictive maintenance digital platform that has been used in consumer environments in the past. If a company wanted to use it in the rail network, the centre could be used to stress test its resilience.
Taking that proposed software: “We would break it using our threat intelligence platforms, our understandings through to classical cyber hacking, but also using some engineering architecture work to understand what are the absolute critical parts of that software,” he says.
They will then fix any issues within the product by applying either their own or a partner’s software.
They will then scale it up using their cyber range simulation technology to “simulate and emulate operational technology networks using the languages, the programming technology and the concept of operation that exists in critical national infrastructure sectors,” Williams told us.
If the product was being tested for the rail sector they would simulate the industrial IoT network it would encounter by creating lots of traffic and messaging that is representative of what you would encounter within a rail infrastructure.
This allows you to monitor its cyber performance, but the Cyber Range also lets you attack it within this simulated environment.
At the end of the process the centre will be able to tell you that your product can make it ,or is not robust enough for the sector in mind.
Thales and Wales Partnership
Speaking on the partnership with Thales, Welsh Minister for the Economy Ken Skates commented that: “The centre will help ensure that Wales exploits the global opportunities of digital transformation, provide a base for ground breaking research and will equip businesses of all shapes and sizes with the skills and knowledge they need to win a greater share of large regional and national projects.”
Mr Williams informed us that those using this service will be a mixed group: “It’s a range, it could be an SME who has got a really whiz bang product or software application and they don’t know how cyber secure it is or they want to attract a different sector.”
While he couldn’t talk about it at moment he did say that they have some blue chip partners that will bring their own projects to the centre as the simulation cyber range technology available in the NDEC will be the only one in the UK.
On site a Digital Education Centre will be operated by the University of South Wales with technology provided by Thales.
The aim is to deliver disruptive training for all education levels, as well as business training. They hope to us AR and VR technology to create engaging classes that teach younger students about their digital identify and what threat actor can do with that data. The centre is also aiming to provide industry level education to enterprise employees.
There has been a slew of investment announcements for Wales as the government tries to establish a ‘Tech Valley’ in Blaenau Gwent.
Welsh Secretary of State Alun Cairn commented last year that: “If we want Wales to be at the vanguard of the high-tech revolution, we need to up our stakes – and our vision must be global.”
This commented was made during a tour of semiconductor facilities in Newport South Wales. IQE, Wafer Fab and SPTS Technologies all received a slice of £50 million aimed at increasing R&D into compound semiconductor technology in Wales.