Cybersecurity threats on the rise in the UK, spurring need for new security center

By Elizabeth Mullen

The United Kingdom was the target of 188 high-level attacks in the last three months, National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) Chief Executive Ciaran Martin said in an interview with The Sunday Times. The NCSC is a new division under the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters that was formally unveiled this week amid what Martin described as a “step change” in state-sponsored cybersecurity threats to Western nations from hackers in Russia and China.

State-sponsored hacking targets elections, charities

In the six months since the NCSC began its work, the organization has blocked an additional 34,550 “potential attacks” on government departments and citizens, ITProPortal reported, including an attack by Russian hackers before Britain’s 2015 general election.

Martin described the 2015 US Office of Personnel Management hack that compromised 25 million government employees’ personal information as a category 1 attack, the likes of which the UK must be prepared to combat. The 188 attacks in the last three months were described as categories 2 and 3, “many of which threatened national security. Each one could entail ‘hundreds of thousands’ of simultaneous attacks, such as phishing emails to government departments and businesses,” the Times reported.

Britain is targeted by at least 60 significant cyberattacks each month, many of which are an attempt to gain information on UK government policy, particularly on energy and diplomacy. By comparison, there were 77,000 “cyber incidents” against the US government in 2015, a 10 percent increase over 2014, according to Newsweek. Martin noted that there has also been an increase in attacks on “soft targets” such as charities and universities to access and sell personal data and research, respectively.

“We’ve got some very capable adversaries, but we’ve done a good job in detecting and managing those sorts of attacks,” Martin said. “However, the level of sophistication is such that we keep very vigilant, and I expect that there will be a category 1 incident at some point in the future.”

Businesses must also shore up defenses

At Tuesday’s NCSC launch ceremony, Britain’s Treasury Chief Philip Hammond encouraged businesses to strengthen their defenses against cybersecurity threats, noting that 65 percent of large companies reported a hack or breach within the past year, The Independent reported. Last year, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer pledged to increase cybersecurity spending to £1.9 billion by 2020, according to GOV.UK.

Cyberattacks cannot be eliminated entirely, Martin noted, but he also expressed a disdain for “defeatism” and emphasized that there are ways to increase security across all government systems.

Image source: iStock

Written By

Elizabeth Mullen

Tech News Writer

Libby is a tech news writer and editor with years of experience covering the intersections of technology, business, finance and healthcare. She is particularly interested in disruptive technologies, big data and the ways innovative products can improve daily life in emerging markets.…