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Reliability and trust: why Switzerland as a cybersecurity hub

Wednesday 21 December 2022

With its long tradition of neutrality, legal certainty, and political stability, as well as its high-quality initiatives and education and research institutes, Switzerland is a privileged location for cybersecurity companies.

Cybersecurity aims to protect computer systems, networks, and data from malicious attacks, privacy breaches, and other forms of cybercrime. In Switzerland, where the economy is largely based on information technology, cybersecurity is crucial to maintaining consumer and investor confidence in online businesses and protecting the sensitive data of individuals and the federal government.

These past few years, cybersecurity has become increasingly important due to the growing dependence of companies and individuals on information and communication technologies. This is reflected in the recent federal announcement regarding the “Groupe Securité” (SG) and the “Délégation du Conseil fédéral pour la sécurité” (Délésec), planned for 2023. The National Cyber Security Center (NCSC), the federal government's center of competence for cybersecurity, will also be transformed into a federal office. The Federal Council has also submitted a message to Parliament concerning the obligation to report cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure directly to the NCSC. With this, Switzerland intends to play an active role in protecting the population and the business community against cyber risks, while at the same time improving the security of its systems.

Cybersecurity measures in the Greater Geneva Bern area

Apart from the NCSC initiated by the Swiss Confederation, other cybersecurity initiatives have been put in place in Switzerland, particularly in the Geneva area, where the World Wide Web was invented at CERN in 1989 and where more than 50% of the world's Internet-related activities take place.

In 2020, the cantons of Vaud and Geneva joined forces to create the "Trust Valley", a center of excellence dedicated to digital trust and cybersecurity that aims to establish a unique ecosystem and encourage innovative projects.

Based in Geneva, the Swiss Digital Initiative (SDI) aims to preserve ethical standards in the digital sector through concrete projects. It brings together academia, government, civil society, and business to find solutions to strengthen trust in digital technologies and in the actors involved in the ongoing digital transformation. With the help of EPFL, SDI has launched the "Digital Trust" label to promote the credibility of digital applications. It is the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

The WEF Global Center for Cybersecurity in Geneva, launched by the World Economic Forum, is an independent institution that aims to build a secure global cyberspace and strengthen collaboration between individuals and governments around the world.

Other initiatives in the field of cybersecurity are already well established, such as the Cyberpeace Institute, an organization that aims to assist vulnerable communities, advocate transparency and participate in international discussions about behavior in cyberspace, or the Center for Digital Trust based at EPFL in Lausanne, which brings together partners, laboratories, civil society, and political actors to exchange ideas and gain rapid access to trust-building technologies, based on cutting-edge research conducted at EPFL and elsewhere.

Education, research, and innovation in cybersecurity

Switzerland’s expertise is defined by excellence in engineering, encryption, and algorithms. Many academic institutions in the Greater Geneva Berna area train experts in the field of cybersecurity.

EPFL offers a Master’s program that trains cybersecurity engineers. The University of Fribourg, the School of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg, and the School of Engineering and Management Vaud also offer programs in this field. The University of Lausanne hosts the Swiss Cybersecurity Advisory and Research Group, focused on scientific research and academic teaching of the security of information technologies. The Bern University of Applied Sciences is also active in the field with its Institute for Cybersecurity and Engineering ICE. Finally, the Idiap Research Institute has made a name for itself internationally with its Swiss Center for Biometrics Research and Testing. Idiap was chosen as the only European partner in Google’s exclusive Abacus research project. IARPA, the US Intelligence Department, has also collaborated with Idiap for spoofing attacks.

This depth of talent is what led tech giants including Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, Logitech, Cisco, and Kudelski Security to choose Western Switzerland as a hub for their R&D activities.

In the same context, many startups have flourished. For example, Nym Technologies in Neuchâtel has created an open-source and decentralized infrastructure that offers full-stack privacy, by leveraging blockchain technology. Saporo in Lausanne uses graph theory to help businesses model, measure, and increase their resistance to cyberattacks. Also on board is Threatray in Biel, which has developed a malware intelligence platform, facilitating effective defense and response to cyberattacks.

Western Switzerland’s innovation infrastructure supports the development of cybersecurity companies from an early stage. Incubators such as Y-Parc, Fongit, MassChallenge, and FriUp offer seeding, incubation, and acceleration programs to foster the growth of cybersecurity startups. The Geneva-based Rising Star Accelerator identifies and selects cutting-edge pre-seed and seed-stage cybersecurity startups.

Today, Western Switzerland boasts a sophisticated local market with quality companies including ID Quantique and ProtonMail. New companies move to the region every year, drawn by its deep talent pool and excellent business conditions. The many public authorities, academic institutions, and economic players in Western Switzerland are helping to position the region as an agile, innovative, and efficient force for digital transformation.

Find out more here about what makes Western Switzerland a center for cybersecurity.

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