The key to national resilience

A strategic approach to cyber security will help the UK through the coronavirus crisis.

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From Alan Turing and the Bletchley Park codebreakers to the battle against climate change, technologists in the UK have been pivotal in taking on global challenges. Now, as we continue to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, the UK’s cyber security sector is stepping up to play an important role in combating the fallout from the spread of the disease. It is doing this in a number of ways.

A recent report from UK and US intelligence services showed cyber criminals are exploiting the crisis to target people and organisations. In response the government’s Cyber Aware campaign has set out ways we can protect ourselves by using strong and different passwords for online accounts, and by turning on two-factor authentication where possible.

The National Cyber Security Centre has issued guidance for home-working and dealing with suspicious emails, and it is giving organisations in the voluntary sector free access to online training. The recently relaunched Cyber Essentials Scheme helps businesses reduce the risk of falling victim to cyber attacks through targeted advice.

More broadly, cyber security specialists are helping protect our national digital infrastructure to keep people and businesses connected and ensure our NHS systems are resilient.

The Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) is working with the tech sector and other government departments to lead the fight against fake news. When we see dangerous or misleading content getting traction or being shared unchecked, we are acting quickly with the major social media platforms to combat it.

With the boom in digital technology, the need for cyber security professionals has never been greater. It is no surprise the number of cyber security firms in the country has grown by 40 per cent since 2017. This sector is a fast-growing asset for the UK. Data from a recent study for DCMS shows new cyber security tech hubs are thriving in north-west England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They have collectively secured 20 per cent of industry investment deals over the past four years.

This government is committed to supporting firms through these challenging times and has announced an unprecedented package to help businesses, workers and organisations. While our top priority is rightly to combat the spread of coronavirus, protect the NHS and save lives, our ambition to level up the country remains unchanged.

As the minister charged with overseeing the country’s digital infrastructure and cyber security, I want everyone with the talent and aptitude to have the opportunity to succeed regardless of where they live. Through the Cyber 101 programme we are delivering boot camps to rain the next generation of professionals, most recently in Newcastle, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Newport. We have invested £2m in helping academics commercialise research and set up companies through the Cyber Security Academic Start-Up Accelerator Programme.

We must also inspire the next generation and attract talent from all backgrounds. I attended the grand final of our CyberFirst Girls Competition in Cardiff in March and watched talented students get a taste of what those in cyber jobs face every day. The nationwide CyberFirst programme has to date helped inspire more than 80,000 young people to consider a career in cyber security. We want to make sure the UK has world-leading cyber security standards to give consumers the confidence to trust organisations with their data. This is especially important our daily lives become more connected to the internet, from fridges to security cameras and children’s toys.

The current security standards of many of these devices are low, putting the security and privacy of consumers at risk. I recently announced new legislation to hold firms that are manufacturing and stocking internet-connected devices to account.

Manufacturers will now need to make sure pre-programmed passwords in internet-connected devices are unique and not resettable to universal factory settings. At the point of sale, either in store or online, they will have to state the minimum length of time for which the device will receive security updates.

Companies making smart devices will also need to maintain a public point of contact so any security vulnerabilities found can be reported and addressed quickly. The vulnerability of such devices is a global issue and my department has been leading a cross-border initiative to create a world-standard of security.

This strategic approach to cyber security will ensure we are resilient during this crisis, and will allow us to seize new opportunities in the future.

This article is from Spotlight's May supplement on cyber security. Click here for the full edition. 

Matt Warman is the Member of Parliament for Boston and Skegness & former Technology Editor at the Daily Telegraph.

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