New centre is the public face of the government’s online security efforts.
On February 14, the Queen officially opened the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). Based in central London, it can be viewed as the public face of the UK Government’s fight against cybercrime.
All the sexy, top-secret, national security stuff, happens at GCHQ in Cheltenham. You know, the kind of thing that if you find out about, you suddenly meet an untimely end as the result of a tragic ‘accident’. In contrast, the National Cyber Security Centre’s remit covers everything from consumer protection, to helping protect the county’s critical infrastructure – 80% of which isn’t operated by the government.
It’s these privately-owned businesses of course, that represent the greatest exposure to risk; and the bigger the and more complex the company, often, the bigger the risk. Many of the UK’s utility providers (gas, electricity, water) are owned by non-British companies. As a result, in the event of a large-scale cyber attack, their response may not be as quick, or as thorough, as the UK authorities would expect.
To try and bridge the public/private sector divide, staff at the central London centre will be joined by tech and security experts from the private sector to help identify threats. These 100 secondments will be funded by the individuals’ own companies.
New era of online opportunity
NCSC Chief Executive, Ciaran Martin, said: “Our job is to make the UK the safest place to live and do business online. We will help secure our critical services, lead the response to the most serious incidents and improve the underlying security of the Internet through technological improvement and advice to citizens and organisations.
“We want to be at the centre of a new era of online opportunity and help people to feel as safe as possible when using technology to its fullest potential.”
The centre forms part of the UK’s “ambitious cyber security strategy” and will focus on:
- Understanding the cyber security environment, sharing knowledge and using that expertise to identify and address systematic vulnerabilities;
- Reducing risks to the UK by working with public and private sector organisations to improve their cyber security;
- Responding to cyber security incidents to reduce the harm they cause to the UK; and
- Nurturing and growing our national cyber security capability, and provide leadership on critical national cyber security issues.
The look of success
Speaking at the centre’s official opening, Ciaran Martin told the assembled media: “Let me tell you what I think success looks like. It doesn’t mean we have no cyber attacks. We’re a prosperous, digitally advanced, important country so people are going to attack us. That’s a fact of modern life. But when someone attacks the UK, I want them to think of us as the hardest of targets. We’re good at cyber security in the UK. But we need to get even better.”
He went on to say that if you’re an attacker and you’re going to attack the UK, here’s what you’re going to face:
- You’re going to have to be pretty good – thanks to our technological improvements and higher cyber security standards across the whole country, we’ll have made sure that the basic attacks are no longer getting through
- If you do get through, there’s an even higher chance we’ll detect you and we’ll be able to advise the government quickly on how best to respond
- If you’re attacking a critically important system, you’ll have to get past the state-of-the-art-security we’ve helped the company or department build into the system – and we’ll be working seamlessly with people we already know in the organisation to kick you off the network
- … and if you’re trying to harm British consumers, know that we’ll be out there, early and clearly, telling those affected by the attack what they need to do to deal with it
In a moment of refreshing honesty Martin admitted: “That’s our mission. It’s ambitious. We will make mistakes. Initiatives will disappoint. Things will go wrong. Bear with us, because we’ll make it work for the whole country.”
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