Shelter from the storm

The government’s cyber strategy is promising stronger US cooperation and hackathons that identify young talent. 

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I n the wake of the recent cyber attack on Sony Pictures, it was reported that staff had to unearth a long-abandoned machine from the basement so they could issue payslips to employees. Others had to resort to notebooks to carry on working; some were sent home altogether. The fact that one of the world’s largest and most powerful entertainment brands almost ground to a halt is testament to how completely the digital revolution has transformed the way we live and work.

Several nation states are actively seeking to exploit digital networks, but attacks like these can also come from organised criminals, terrorists, hackers or even an individual with a grudge. The threat is serious and growing, but the government is resolute in our determination to help keep the internet open, free and safe for businesses and individuals alike – all part of our longterm economic plan to ensure Britain is one of the safest places in the world to do business online.

Three years ago we laid out the first comprehensive national Cyber Security Strategy, backed by funding worth £860m. Committing such a large amount of new money at a time of economic restraint is a good indication of how highly cyber security ranks on our list of priorities.

 Much of our investment has been directed at beefing up our security and law enforcement capabilities. We’ve established a National Cyber Crime Unit within the new National Crime Agency and launched a Computer Emergency Response Team, CERT-UK, with responsibility for coordinating our response to a national cyber incident.

Digital technology is constantly changing and no single organisation can keep up by working alone. Last year, we launched the Cyber Security Information Sharing Partnership, through which government and businesses can exchange information on threats and vulnerabilities - in real time. Over 800 organisations have joined already. The more partners that join, the more information that’s shared, the better the overall picture and the greater our collective resilience.

Cyberspace is a world with permeable borders. A single cyber-attack could be routed through servers hosted in dozens of different countries, and this requires an international response.

That’s why earlier this month David Cameron and President Obama agreed on cooperation between our two countries. This includes establishing a joint cyber cell on both sides of the Atlantic, so that UK and US cyber teams and intelligence and security agencies can share information about threats from common cyber adversaries. We will also conduct regular exercises to test the resilience of the most important networks in our two countries. The first will simulate an attack on banks in the City and on Wall Street; future exercises will test critical national infrastructure.

This cooperation extends to ensuring we have the right people with the right skills coming into the workforce. A new Fulbright Cyber Security Award programme will offer cyber research placements for up to six months in both the UK and the US, and a hackathon between universities in Cambridge Massachusetts and Cambridge England will pit the best of US and UK talent against each other with the aim of stimulating the next generation of cyber defenders.

Whenever I meet young people involved in cyber security, whether at university or working in apprenticeships or with start-up companies, I’m blown away by their ability and sheer brain power. Our cyber expertise is recognised around the world, particularly in America, where a long line of British computer scientists and digital entrepreneurs have made their mark, from Alan Turing and Tim Berners-Lee to Apple’s Jonathan Ive. This presents a massive opportunity for jobs and growth.

A number of UK-based cyber firms are already opening up offices in the US and we want others to follow in their footsteps. That’s why we’ve produced the first ever Cyber Exports Strategy. We aim to export £2bn worth of products and services worldwide annually by 2016. As part of this a new cyber security envoy has been appointed to help British small businesses and first-time exporters promote their business interests across the US. Our message is simple: UK firms are creative, talented, competitive and ready to work with you. This combination of ambition and partnership abroad, coupled with our continued vigilance online, will ensure the UK’s digital future is secure and prosperous, so we can continue to benefit from the many ways in which the internet is transforming our lives.

Francis Maude is Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General