Protecting New Zealand with education and technology

In 2016 Cyber Toa a Wellington Head Quartered ICT Security consultancy partnered with Victoria University to co-design a new Bachelor of Cyber. Designed to strengthen New Zealand resilience against an escalating threat of cybercrime and cyber attacks. The Bachelor is the first known collaboration by commercial and tertiary partners in New Zealand.

Tony Grasso, Director of Technology at Cyber Toa and driving force behind the programme, has always been passionate about education. He tells a story about his father, who was a doctor in remote Africa. His father saw a young man who sat night after night under the only streetlight in the village.

Eventually, Tony’s father asked the young man what he was doing under the streetlight. The young man answered that he was doing his homework, having worked a full job all day. Tony said that this story inspires him and impressed upon him the importance of education as a way that anyone can raise themselves up.

Now, Tony is combining this passion with his background in cyber security, in order to help make New Zealand more resilient in the face of cybersecurity threats and Cyber Toa is working closely with Victoria University of Wellington to build a degree that equips people with the specific skills they need to address cyber threats.

These threats aren’t trivial either. In 2014, hackers took down a German steel mill in a really big way: they hacked into the software that managed a blast furnace, and caused it to explode, which in turn caused massive damage to the steel mill.  Stories like this are indicative of a wider trend - cyber security is a growing issue, and it’s really important that we prevent and manage hacks like the 2014 steel mill attack.

Borne out of frustration

This programme was borne out of frustration. When Tony arrived in New Zealand from the UK, he ran into a problem: Cyber Toa couldn’t find suitably skilled professionals in cyber security. This wasn’t just an issue for Cyber Toa, but an issue for NZ as a whole - these skills are critical to keep our infrastructure and economy safe from threats.

Seeing an opportunity to solve problems he’d encountered in his business as well as a chance to contribute to New Zealand’s IT industry, Cyber Toa worked with VUW to build a specific cyber security degree. By partnering with Victoria University, Cyber Toa addressed both an issue in the industry and helped to develop and shape the future of cybersecurity in New Zealand, putting it at the forefront.

The Bachelors is a departure from the traditional cyber security career path, which generally comes from computer science. But computer science isn’t quite the same as cyber security. A computer science graduate can expect to be a software developer, or systems administrator. These are adjacent, but different, skills to cyber security, which requires both a deep understanding of how systems work, and an understanding of how to protect them.

VUW was keen to work with Tony because they also recognised the gap in the NZ labour force. So they set about working with Cyber Toa to provide the training to create the next generation of cyber security experts - and therefore improve New Zealand’s resilience against the escalating threat of cybercrime and cyber attacks. Cyber Toa also demonstrated their expertise during the process and now count the university among its clients.

Small, and fast

New Zealand’s relatively small size means that it can be nimble and react quickly. VUW showed its capability to do just that with the degree taking just under 2 years from conception to the first lectures. These are delivered as a partnership, with real-world learning from Cyber Toa, backed up by Victoria’s academic and research infrastructure. This gives a strong backing of both theory and practice.

The programme is in its early days now, and as time goes on, New Zealand will be better-protected from cyber security threats, thanks to the collaborative efforts of Cyber Toa, Tony and Victoria University.

BrandsBrian Steele