A veteran of the Iraq War leads the fight against cyberattacks in Northern Ireland.
Val Wilson of Co Armagh has overall responsibility for the newly opened cybersecurity center in Belfast, which operates 24/7 to prevent hackers from gaining access to private and public sector networks.
The Security Operations Center (SOC), which is the first of its kind in Northern Ireland, is operated by BT after Stormont was awarded a £6.3 million contract to protect ICT assets across the civil service.
SOC addresses attempted cyberattacks on critical national infrastructure networks, including healthcare, and online threats targeting the banking and retail sectors in the region.
Ms Wilson, who is now BT’s UK head of operations and control, was a former Territorial Army captain and took a break from the company in 2005 to serve in Iraq.
She said BT deals with an average of 6,500 cyberattacks a day across its network.
The company employs 3,000 cyber security specialists who are able to cope with the constant wave of attacks. One team of experts works at the SOC at BT’s Waterside Tower in Belfast city centre.
“Attacks are coming from everywhere and we’ve seen a really rapid increase in attacks over the last few years, mainly due to the pandemic and the transition to the digital age where more information is stored in the cloud,” said Wilson. .
She said hybrid work models also give criminals more ways to intercept valuable data.
“The clients we look after are quite diverse, especially from a Northern Ireland perspective,” she added.
“We will take care of government services, we will take care of hospitals, everything that is critical national infrastructure, as well as the retail and banking sectors.
“We take care of our customers’ infrastructure and make sure we try to keep the bad guys out.
“We are always on high alert to protect our customers and their employees.”
Ms Wilson, who has been with BT for 21 years, said her military experience gave her a valuable foundation for her current role.
“There’s actually a real synergy between the military and working in the cyber world,” she said.
“I think the most important thing is the risk management mentality. I think equally, from a leadership point of view, that making decisions based on intelligent threat information is similar in both worlds.
“I think the most important thing is when things go wrong, so whenever there is an incident where you need to react, the preparation, the training you do every day comes to the fore and it is the default mechanism for many people who they were all in the army.
“BT recently won Veterans Employer of the Year in Northern Ireland and we are delighted to see veterans coming because of these synergies.
“From a personal point of view, it was something that really helped me in my career and I hope it will help me in the future as well.”