A cybersecurity instructor helping a school age boy use a tablet securely

A world without the internet is unimaginable. Connecting billions of people worldwide, the internet is a core pillar of modern infrastructure.

Every day, more than 4.8 billion people around the globe use the internet and staggeringly the average person spends 6 hours and 42 minutes a day online. With more and more essential services being conducted online from accessing health care through patient portals to managing finances on mobile devices, the world has become digital-first. Unfortunately, this widespread phenomenon makes us more vulnerable than ever to cyber threats.

Yet, across the world, cybersecurity is facing an unprecedented challenge: finding and training professionals to answer the growing needs of people and businesses to solve the challenges of ongoing threats.

Additionally, the talent currently in place lacks diversity, meaning there is a natural limitation to the ideas generated and solutions applied.

The logo of Ryerson University's Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst

One organization based in Brampton, Ontario is helping to solve these problems. The Rogers Cybersecure Catalyst (the Catalyst) is Ryerson University’s national centre for innovation and collaboration in cybersecurity. The Catalyst has been designed to unleash Ontario’s tech talent by bringing academia, the private sector, and the public sector together to empower Canadian businesses to tackle the challenges of cybersecurity.

It’s no wonder why this first-of-its-kind Catalyst was established in Ontario, Canada. With 300k highly skilled tech workers in the province, and 55k more graduating from STEM programs every year, Ontario’s cybersecurity ecosystem is among the most robust in the world. Established in 2018, the Catalyst was set up with support from the Government of Canada, Rogers Communications, Royal Bank of Canada, and the City of Brampton to leverage the wide array of talent available within the province.

With their ground-breaking training and certification programs; unique commercial accelerator for Canadian cybersecurity scale-ups; first-of-its-kind cyber range; wide-ranging public education programs; and influential policy development platform, the Catalyst is driving Canada’s global competitiveness in cybersecurity.

“There’s a well-established tech and entrepreneurial ecosystem in Brampton and a wealth of talent in the Toronto–Waterloo corridor that makes Ontario the ideal setting for cybersecurity innovation,” Charles Finlay, Catalyst’s Executive Director told us. “We know there aren’t enough people working in cybersecurity, so our programs are built to put thousands of well-trained cybersecurity professionals out into the world. And we know cybersecurity isn’t diverse enough, so we design our programs specifically to encourage a more diverse group, whether that’s women, people of colour, new Canadians, or displaced workers.”

The Catalyst’s initiatives

The Catalyst has launched five core initiatives, each of which is unique, impactful, and designed to meet demonstrated needs in the Canadian public and private sectors. Here we look at the three that have us and Charles Finlay particularly excited.

An entrepreneur learning cybersecurity education online
  1. Accelerated Cybersecurity Training Program
    “We offer a 7-month robust training program to high potential learners and deliver them into entry-level positions,” Finlay explained. “Participants don’t need to have a tech background; they just have to show an aptitude to learn and a desire to be involved in cybersecurity – we’ve brought Uber drivers and hairdressers onto the program. We want to leverage the diversity of Ontario’s society to ensure we’re global leaders.”
  2. Catalyst Cyber Accelerator
    The Cyber Accelerator is a 4-month program for early stage startups with the aim of helping these cybersecurity companies become national and international competitors. “Companies involved in the program get to work with experts on the frontiers of cybersecurity. Each startup has access to our entrepreneur in residence and large companies – who in turn get to work with the emerging leaders of tomorrow,” Finlay said. Each program contains five companies, who have secured their place through a thorough vetting process. To date, ten companies have successfully completed the program, and a third cohort is currently in place.
  3. Catalyst Cyber Range
    The Cyber Range is a unique cybersecurity training and testing platform that provides experiential learning opportunities that are both immersive and ultra-realistic. “The range allows learners and researchers to train, conduct in-depth research, and refine new products and processes.” The Range bridges the gap between theory and reality, ensuring that the best ideas are tested and validated in a collaborative environment by a diverse team of experts before they’re applied to real-world challenges.

From risk to opportunity

The Catalyst has been built from the ground up to bring the brightest minds from academia, the public sector, and the private sector together to make digital ecosystems safer for the 4.8 billion people who use them every day. However, it is an organization with an even bigger goal than simply making current systems safer.

“At present, cybersecurity is thought of in a negative light – how do we prevent bad things from happening? Cybersecurity is one of the major challenges of our time because, as a society, we’re all the way in on digital,” according to Finlay. “But there’s so much opportunity. If we, as Ontarians invest, cybersecurity can help secure Ontario’s and Canada’s economy, protect our charter rights, and create high-value, high-skilled jobs now and in the future.” With the talent on hand in Ontario, and organizations like the Catalyst offering support to leaders, juniors, and communities alike, the province is well positioned to be a global leader in a sector of global significance.