Britain's Cyber Security Strategy Focuses On Resilience

The British government has launched its first Government Cyber Security Strategy, a multi-million pound plan to help better protect vital public services from the growing risk of disruptive and destructive cyber attacks. 

According to the Government statement, Britain’s public services will be strengthened to further protect them from the risk of being shut down by hostile cyber threats. Members of the public will also be able to contribute to the effort, with a new vulnerability reporting service allowing individuals to report weaknesses in digital services.

“Our public services are precious and without them individuals can’t access the support that they rely on... If we want people to continue to access their pensions online, social care support from local government or health services, we need to step up our cyber defences. The cyber threat is clear and growing. But government is acting, investing over £2bn in cyber, retiring legacy IT systems and stepping up our skills and coordination.”said, said Minister Steve Barclay. Minister Barclay also said that Britain is now the third most targeted country in the world in cyberspace from hostile states.

The new strategy will be funded by £37.8 million invested to help local authorities boost their cyber resilience, protecting the essential services and data on which citizens rely on.  “The cyber threat is clear and growing. But government is acting - investing over £2billion in cyber, retiring legacy IT systems and stepping up our skills and coordination.” Barclay added.

The new strategy outlines how central government and the public sector will step up national cyber resilience by better sharing data, expertise and capabilities to allow government to ‘Defend As One’, meaning that government cyber defence is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Of the 777 incidents managed by the National Cyber Security Centre between September 2020 and August 2021, around 40% were aimed at the public sector. 

In 2020, both Redcar & Cleveland and Hackney Councils were hit by ransomware attacks impacting council tax, benefits and housing waiting lists. Gloucester City Council was subjected to damaging cyber attack in 2021. It follows the recent publication of the National Cyber Security Strategy, which called on all parts of society to play their part in reinforcing the UK’s economic strengths in cyberspace, through more diversity in the workforce, levelling up the cyber sector across all UK regions, expanding offensive and defensive cyber capabilities and prioritising cyber security in the workplace, boardrooms and digital supply chains.

Key announcements in the strategy include:

  • Establishing a new Government Cyber Coordination Centre (GCCC), to better coordinate cyber security efforts across the public sector. Building on successful private sector models, such as the Financial Sector Cyber Collaboration Centre, the GCCC will rapidly identify, investigate and coordinate the government’s response to attacks on public sector systems. The centre will be based in the Cabinet Office and will ensure that data is rapidly shared, allowing us to ‘Defend As One’.
  • A new cross-government vulnerability reporting service, which will allow security researchers and members of the public to easily report issues they identify with public sector digital services. This will enable organisations to more quickly fix any issues identified.
  • A new, more detailed assurance regime for the whole of government, which will include robust assessment of departmental plans and vulnerabilities. This will give central government a more detailed picture of government’s cyber health for the first time.
  • £37.8 million invested into local authorities for cyber resilience - protecting the essential services and data on which citizens rely on including housing benefit, voter registration, electoral management, school grants and the provision of social care.
  • An innovative project to reduce government risk through culture change, in partnership with small businesses and academia
  • Stepped up work to understand the growing risk from the supply chains of commercially provided products in government systems, ensuring security is a key part of procurement and working with industry on cyber vulnerabilities.

According to the British Government Chief Security Officer, Vincent Devine,  the new strategy is designed to  ensure that government’s critical functions are significantly hardened to cyber attacks. The strategy is centred around two core pillars:

  • First focussing on building a strong foundation of organisational cyber security resilience.
  • Second aimed at allowing government to ‘defend as one’, harnessing the value of sharing data, expertise and capabilities.

Cyber security expert Dr Süleyman Özarslan, founder of Picus Security commented that we've "seen similar Government announcements before" and that it clearly finds public sector security a challenge. “It’s a positive step good that the UK government recognises the importance of improving the state of cyber security in the public sector... Local authorities are increasingly targeted by cyber criminals and when they are, the impact can be significant for citizens." 

“Defend as One” is a noble aim, but it’s no good improving knowledge sharing if councils aren’t also in a position to apply intelligence and take swift, defensive actions. The public sector increasingly needs to shift its approach from being reactive to proactive... The UK is highly targeted, and it is important that, as a nation, we defend our ability to support our citizens and the services they rely on. I would question whether £37.8m is enough to help local authorities improve cyber reliance, given their current level of resources and the threats they face. It may prove to be a drop in the ocean, but at the £2B investment overall is a significant sum." according to Dr. Özarslan

Gov.UK:      Navy-Net:      Industrial Cyber:      ITPro:      Picus Security:      Computer Weekly:   

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