Ireland is an important player in the global digital economy. According to the Commission for Communications Regulation (“ComReg”) and other estimates, 30% of the European Union’s data are hosted in Ireland. The Republic of Ireland ranks 7th out of 28 EU member states in the European Commission Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) 2019. It is a leading country in the EU for the adoption and use of digital technologies. Several of the world’s largest technology companies are headquartered in Ireland, where many of their data centres are located. At the end of 2019, the Irish government published its second National Cyber Security Strategy for 2019 – 2024, to increase its cybersecurity readiness and resilience. Security of Ireland’s network and information systems is important for economic growth, investment, trust, national security and innovation.  

A cybersecurity Journey  

A key proposal is to develop Ireland’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), increase incident monitoring, respond to incidents and threats and work with the Defence Forces and the Gardai (Police) on critical national infrastructure issues. There is also a growing realisation that cybersecurity resilience, national security and critical national infrastructure should embrace new partnerships between the public sector and private sector. ComReg recommends allowing intelligence on threats to national security to be shared between Irish state agencies and the private sector. Access by private companies to intelligence on national security risks is seen as the best way to guarantee and secure telecoms networks in Ireland.

Key elements of Ireland’s National Cyber Security Strategy 2019-2022

The strategy’s main objectives are to:

  • Continue to improve Ireland’s ability to respond to and manage cybersecurity incidents, including those involving national security
  • Identify and protect critical national infrastructure by increasing its resilience to cyber attacks and ensure that operators of essential services have appropriate incident response plans to reduce and manage disruptions to services
  • Improve the resilience and security of public sector IT systems to better protect data and the services that people rely on
  • Invest in educational initiatives to prepare the workforce for advanced IT and cybersecurity careers
  • Increase business awareness of the need to secure their networks, devices and information and to drive research and development in cyber security in Ireland, including new technology investment
  • Continue to engage with international partners and international organisations to ensure that cyberspace remains open, secure, unitary, free and able to facilitate economic and social development
  • Increase the general level of skills and awareness among private individuals about basic cyber hygiene and support them with information and training.

The strategy’s other key deliverables include the appointment of Cyber Attachés to Ireland’s key foreign diplomatic missions, ratification of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime, expanding the current Threat Sharing Group (TSG), refining existing arrangements with the UK on information sharing and incident response and providing support to Cyber Ireland to develop a Cyber Security Cluster of industry, academia and government.

Action Plan: Monitor progress, review outputs and evaluate results

Companies, organisations, the public sector and investors must monitor the implementation of the strategy. The Irish government’s overall budget for this strategy has not been published. Priorities within the strategy for each major objective has not been fully outlined. The role of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and their position in supply-chain cybersecurity resilience, should be monitored as this is underdeveloped in the strategy. The key question is whether Ireland’s NCSC will become a larger, more confident and technically well-resourced cybersecurity champion in the coming years. 

Ireland’s data protection approach should also be monitored in conjunction with the National Cyber Security Strategy. Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC Ireland), the data protection and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) regulator received a total budget allocation of €16.9 million for 2020, which included a less than requested budget increase. The quadruple challenges of Brexit, coronavirus covid-19, the post-election uncertain government and a cooling Irish economy in the second half of 2020 will directly affect the immediate implementation of the strategy.