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Action still low

HALO’s cyber pledge amid warning to small firms

Marie Macklin: creating a digital army

A pledge to create a “digital army” of young people to tackle cybercrime has coincided with new research showing small firms wrongly believe they are less of a target for hackers.

The HALO academy being built in Ayrshire is planning to train 200 16-24 year olds to combat the wave of increasingly sophisticated cybercriminals.

It has hired an expert in the field to design a new course and intends to place the youngsters with a range of companies across Scotland.

The latest stage in the HALO’s development was announced as research from NFU Mutual revealed that almost half (45%) of businesses have not taken any action to protect themselves from cybercrime. Of these, 79% think that because their business is small, the threat of cyber-attack is low.

The remaining 21% were not aware of, or did not understand, the protection measures available to them. It ha raised concern that many firms are still not taking the threat of attack seriously enough.

The research has also shown that nearly half (47%) of businesses feel more vulnerable to cyber-attack since the increase of remote working.


Companies are urged to check their IT cover (pic: Terry Murden)

Zoe Knight, commercial propositions manager at NFU Mutual, said: “No business, regardless of size, is safe from cyber-attack. 

“The best way to defend against cyber-attack is to implement a range of security measures, providing layers of protection and accounting for different types of threat.

“I’d also encourage business owners to talk to their IT supplier to ensure they understand whether cyber-security is included. Again, many businesses assume existing systems protect them, but this is not always the case and it may be necessary to organise separate or additional cyber-security measures.”


The HALO’s new training programme, supported by £1.5 million from the UK Government’s new Kickstart Scheme, will result in a HALO accredited qualification to support employment opportunities. The trainees will initially be offered work placements with a number of partner firms.

The HALO is a £63m brownfield urban regeneration project on the 23-acre site of the Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky plant.

It has appointed Business Resilience International Management, founded by Mandy Haeburn-Little, former CEO of the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, to design the HALO Cyber Course. 

HALO founder and executive chairman Marie Macklin said: “My vision is for the HALO to create a cyber/digital army of young people who will gain the skills necessary to go out into the UK’s businesses, third sector and public sector organisations to fight the ever-increasing number of cyber criminals who are threatening this country.”

Plans are under way for successful candidates to be housed within a number of the HALO’s 210 net zero carbon emission smart homes that will be built in the second phase of the development.

This will mirror the model that Johnnie Walker operated in the 1950s and 60s when the company provided affordable, high quality homes elsewhere in Kilmarnock for many of their workers.

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