Cybersecurity experts commented below on the UK Government has now published the full details of its Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.
<p>The review has correctly identified that cyberspace is an increasingly contested domain. While the National Cyber Force signals a greater willingness to engage, it is encouraging that the language demonstrates there is still a focus on remaining a responsible player. This is therefore not a complete overhaul of the current playbook but the National Cyber Force responds to a threat landscape that is growing in complexity for at least three reasons.</p> <p> </p> <p>First, beyond the big four of Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea, other states are now developing cyber capabilities. Vietnam is one example of a country that has quickly ramped up its ability to conduct cyber operations. The UK must therefore plan ahead and anticipate the growing threat posed by emerging players.<br /><br /></p> <p> </p> <p>Second, cybercriminals are becoming increasingly professionalised and sophisticated. This is showcased by the growing scourge of ransomware operations – where data is encrypted and rendered unusable unless an extortion fee is paid. The issue has quickly moved from something of a nuisance to a matter of national security. This has been showcased over the past year by the prominence of ransomware operations targeting critical infrastructure and the healthcare sector amidst a global pandemic.</p> <p><br /><br />Third, the UK must counter growing levels of online disinformation. These operations are now conducted by a variety of countries beyond Russia. Here, the link between disinformation and cyber security is increasingly blurry. For instance, disinformation operators are known to first steal sensitive documents before leaking them at a time intended to cause maximum disruption. These campaigns will also often seek to compromise and then use government social media accounts or websites as a platform to distribute their message.</p>
<p>Providing greater investment in the UK’s cyber defences is a critical move for the Government. Cyber-attacks continue to evolve in nature, with state-sponsored hacking groups and ransomware gangs increasingly posing a threat to all industries. </p> <p> </p> <p>A year of remote working has opened our eyes up to just how much the internet and connected devices are integral to our way of life. Disruption caused by a cyber-attack risks total immobilisation. Securing our digital infrastructure nationwide must be a number one priority. This means cracking down on hacking groups, staying on top of who has access to what, and when, and taking precautionary measures to safeguard the sensitive information of UK citizens. </p> <p> </p> <p>But the onus is not just on the Government – every individual and every business has a role to play. Last year, many businesses found that they were ill-equipped to deal with cybersecurity threats while working from home. As of October 2020, <a href=\"https://protect-eu.mimecast.com/s/tr04CjqnmhYy45jF51iVN?domain=sailpoint.com/\" target=\"_blank\" rel=\"noopener\" data-saferedirecturl=\"https://www.google.com/url?q=https://protect-eu.mimecast.com/s/tr04CjqnmhYy45jF51iVN?domainsailpoint.com/&source=gmail&ust=1616079744251000&usg=AFQjCNFW4HHeF9ptFLuTCU9-udeKUWUBlQ\">we found that</a> 42% of UK employees said that their company has not put any additional cybersecurity measures in place in the last twelve months. Only 18% said they had seen improved security measures for access to online files. </p> <p> </p> <p>Investing in the security of the UK’s digital infrastructure is crucial. But the Government must also work with businesses to secure their digital footprints for the long term – from ensuring better guidance on cyber-secure business practices, to providing more opportunities for cyber talent to grow and thrive.</p>
<p>The UK’s ability to be a force for good in conducting offensive cyber operations to disrupt online aggressors is increasingly important as we continue to move all aspects of our lives online. With so much changing since the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, it is paramount that as a society we have a robust and cutting edge approach to defending against high level nation-targeted attacks. Investment in ‘home grown’ cyber is a wise move.</p> <p><br />In positioning our country as a global digital leader for the future, it will be important to devise solutions that are adaptable as well as highly resilient and scalable; that both protect us from specific nefarious cyber activity and keep the entire UK safe online. The government’s plan to offer a full spectrum approach to cyber defence is crucial to this. A competitive UK is a secure UK.</p> <p><br /><br />A chain is only as strong as its weakest link and as we move to bolster cyber defences the Government’s commitment to increased collaboration between them, academia and industry will be invaluable. As will international alliances. These joint efforts can provide information at scale that individual organisations and countries could perhaps never match on their own. From identifying new threats and where education needs to take place, through to technologies that can provide a broad foundation of security. The more we can pull together in our cyber defence, taking advantage of collective intelligence and counter defence, the stronger we will be.</p>
<p>This report affirms that the UK Government considers cybersecurity a vital component of an integrated national security strategy, a belief those in the cybersecurity community affirm. The call for an updated Cybersecurity Strategy in 2021, which includes strengthening the cyber ecosystem and building a resilient and prosperous digital UK, is also commendable.</p> <p> </p> <p>So too is the government\’s aim to address critical vulnerabilities in the public sector and Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). We\’ve seen an increased focus from threat actors against the operational technology (OT) infrastructure that underpins our CNI, such as the recent attempt to poison the water at a <a href=\"https://cen.acs.org/environment/water/water-treatment-plant-hack-affected/99/web/2021/02\" data-saferedirecturl=\"https://www.google.com/url?q=https://cen.acs.org/environment/water/water-treatment-plant-hack-affected/99/web/2021/02&source=gmail&ust=1616079745848000&usg=AFQjCNF1320P3Bd_SWgvmB5k–ulfjmeaQ\">Florida treatment plant</a>. Increased effort to strengthen CNI cyber defences is imperative to prevent these incidents from causing widespread damage or even endanger lives. </p> <p><br /><br />Today\’s reality is that we continue to see a large number of organisations in the UK and across the globe suffer serious and damaging cyber incidents. In the last few days, thousands of organisations have confirmed breaches as a result of vulnerabilities in Microsoft Exchange Server, and we\’re yet to fully understand the incursion experienced by SolarWinds at the end of last year and the impact further along the supply chain. The list goes on.</p> <p> </p> <p>While it\’s reassuring to see governments take a strong cyber stance, alone it is not enough. All who utilise technology must recognise that there are risks associated with doing so, and employ effective cyber prevention to address the rapidly evolving threat landscape.</p> <p><br /><br />Strong defences can be established by knowing the full range of connected assets on a network, continuously monitoring these assets for vulnerabilities, ensuring privileged access management for connected devices and systems, and prioritising remediation efforts. This is paramount for protecting against cyberattacks and understanding an organisation’s cyber exposure.</p>
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