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National Cyber Security Strategy: UK commits £1.9B, will work with Microsoft

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Today’s tech environment is quite charged with distrust and hostility. With countries like Russia and China being openly accused of playing a role in the cyber attacks aimed at the US and others, it’s about time the UK gets serious, too.

And so it has, with a big announcement made by the government yesterday that it plans to invest £1.9 billion ($2.3 billion) over the next five years in a new cyber defence plan, called the National Cyber Security Strategy, to prepare for and fight back against cyber attacks in the future.

Details of the investment were revealed by Chancellor Philip Hammond yesterday in a speech at Microsoft’s Future:Decoded event in London. According to Hammond, the investment will also involve new partnerships with private and public organisations (including Microsoft) to develop technology. He said:

Our new strategy, underpinned by £1.9 billion of support over five years and excellent partnerships with industry and academia, will allow us to take even greater steps to defend ourselves in cyber-space and to strike back when we are attacked.

The sheer size of the investment makes it the largest fund that the UK has set aside for cyber security services, and it follows from another, relatively smaller one in October, when the Defence Secretary earmarked £265 million specifically for cyber vulnerability at the Ministry of Defence. These funding announcements are the groundwork for a plan that was set in motion a year ago, with the government vowing to get more proactive in cyber security defence, making the National Cyber Security Strategy a monumental development.

As noted by Hammond in his presentation, the news comes with a two-fold purpose. Apart from protecting the government, it is also a move to protect the wider UK digital economy, since cyber attacks would directly impact confidence in the latter. He described a landscape where businesses and people will feel “safe” to do business, saying:

Tech is the future of the UK economy.

It is interesting to note that, while there will likely be many other companies involved, it seems that the biggest to get billing and a name check today is Microsoft.  Cindy Rose, UK CEO, Microsoft, said in a statement:

The mobile-first, cloud-first world holds enormous potential for organisations and individuals to generate new and exciting growth opportunities. However, there is a corresponding risk that as people increase their technology usage they also increase their exposure to cyber security threats. It is critical for all organisations to strengthen their core security hygiene as well as creating a pervasive security culture through education and awareness.

She went on to say:

All participants in the security ecosystem also need to work together to ensure everyone can trust the technology they use. The Chancellor’s announcement is the kind of initiative that the UK needs to protect British citizens from the growing threats we face. We welcome the government’s focus on tackling this significant issue which affects business and individuals alike.

For the fulfillment of its National Cyber Security Strategy, the UK government will be targeting investment in three areas: Defence, Deter and Develop. The first will be about investing in its own systems and those of larger industries like energy and transport, the second will be about investment in law enforcement capabilities to fight cybercrime in the National Cyber Crime Unit, as well as more international partnerships. And finally, the third will be focused on education and future R&D.

Ben Gummer, Minister for the Cabinet Office & Paymaster General, said in a statement:

No longer the stuff of spy thrillers and action movies, cyber-attacks are a reality and they are happening now. Our adversaries are varied – organised criminal groups, ‘hactivists’, untrained teenagers and foreign states. The first duty of the government is to keep the nation safe. Any modern state cannot remain secure and prosperous without securing itself in cyberspace. That is why we are taking the decisive action needed to protect our country, our economy and our citizens.

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