Zhou Hongyi, co-founder of Chinese internet security provider Qihoo 360 Technology, expects the rollout of 5G mobile services and expansion of the industrial internet to open up more opportunities for the company in the world’s second largest economy.

“With more advanced technologies bringing more automation and convenience in the world, the software behind it gets more complex,” said Zhou, Qihoo 360’s chairman and chief executive, in an interview on the sidelines of the recent Smart China Expo held in Chongqing in southwest China.

He said such advances in technology inevitably result in bugs and security gaps, which are the things that the Shanghai-listed cybersecurity firm addresses.

With peak data rates up to 100 times faster than what current 4G networks provide, 5G has been held out as “the connective tissue” for the Internet of Things, autonomous cars, smart cities and other new mobile applications, establishing the backbone for the industrial internet.

Zhou Hongyi, the co-founder, chairman and chief executive of Beijing-based Qihoo 360 Technology. (Picture: Simon Song/SCMP)

China’s three major telecommunications network operators are now in the middle of their initial commercial 5G network rollouts, while the country’s biggest smartphone vendors have started introducing 5G handsets.

Zhou said “more cyberattacks are recently targeting infrastructure,” a trend that Qihoo 360 is closely monitoring amid plans to build up its capabilities for the enterprise and the public sectors.

His assessment bolsters projections that demand for cybersecurity in China will continue to expand, as the country pushes forward its smart city initiatives as well as adopts new applications enabled by advances in 5G, artificial intelligence and cloud computing technologies.

China, with the world’s biggest internet user population at 854 million as of June 30, has also stepped up efforts to nurture more cybersecurity firms that can support hi-tech upgrades across industries.

Beijing-based Qihoo 360 Technology plans to sharpen its focus on government and enterprise security services. (Picture: Imaginechina)

Its cybersecurity market is forecast to reach US$17.9 billion by 2023, up from an estimated US$7.3 billion this year, according to a report published last week by research firm IDC. Spending is expected to be led by the telecommunications and financial services industries as well as the government.

That augurs well for Beijing-based Qihoo 360, which said in its first-half financial results announcement that the company will sharpen its focus on government and enterprise security services.

“Today, Qihoo 360 has the ability to design a nationwide cybersecurity defense system, from top to bottom, which we have proved in China,” said Zhou, referring to a new online resource for fighting cyberattacks that the company announced in June.

Founded by Zhou and Qi Xiangdong in 2005, Qihoo 360 is mainly a consumer-focused internet security business that caters to the needs of mobile phone and personal computer users in China.

The company’s online mobile security service had more than 460 million monthly active users (MAUs) as of December 31, while customers of its desktop computer security service reached more than 500 million MAUs in the same period. Those services are backed by a team of 3,800 internet security specialists.

It also runs online advertising, gaming and smart hardware businesses. On the enterprise side, it provides security consulting, operation and maintenance as well as training for various state agencies and enterprises across the country. Total revenue last year reached 13 billion yuan (US$1.8 billion), up 7.3% from a year earlier.

“In the past, when something went wrong on the internet, people were not able to read the news online or get emails,” said Zhou. Indicating how cybersecurity requirements have increased in the world’s biggest smartphone market, he said: “Now, people cannot order food online or get ride-hailing services if something goes wrong. Cybersecurity concerns all of society and the whole country.”

To be sure, Qihoo 360 has also kept an eye on opportunities to expand its cybersecurity operations overseas. President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, a policy aimed at building infrastructure projects and improve global trade to connect Asia with Africa and Europe, is expected to enable the company to grow outside its home market.

“We will follow the Belt and Road Initiative to provide the technologies and systems that meet the cybersecurity needs of countries in Southeast Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East,” Zhou said. He did not provide details about the company’s plan.

Qihoo 360, however, has some catching up to do because other Chinese hi-tech companies are now making strides in cybersecurity business overseas.

Bigo Technology, a Singapore-based social media company owned by Chinese live-streaming firm YY.com, is now helping the Indonesian government filter its internet content. Bigo is also in talks with authorities in Vietnam, India, Egypt and countries in the Middle East to adopt its online content review technology.