UK launches cyberstrategy with long-term relevance

Like most major global economies, the United Kingdom continues to place cybersecurity issues front and center. The National Cyber Security Strategy: 2016-2021 document—published by the UK Government and released nearly two years ago—describes the plan to make the UK secure and resilient in cyberspace. It’s the most frequently referenced document and project in any cybersecurity discussion. After two years, and with recent updates, it’s worthwhile to revisit the document to assess its importance in securing digital transformation across the UK’s economy. Moreover, the National Security Capability Review (NSCR) March 2018 update to the National Cyber Security Strategy makes the timing for a review of this all the more relevant, as the 80-page document is well-written, thorough, and remains useful and relevant. The cyberstrategy’s core pillars—defend, deter, and develop—are described in detail and address a wide array of important topics, including education, international cooperation, and public-private collaboration.

Specifically, the cybersecurity document does an excellent job in the following areas:

  • Insider threats—This type of threat is highlighted throughout the document; something that is not always emphasized sufficiently. For example, “Insider threats remain a cyber risk to organizations in the UK. Malicious insiders, who are trusted employees of an organization and have access to critical systems and data, pose the greatest threat.” We continue to hear about this problem from customers in nearly all industries and in all countries. This bold and clear statement makes it clear that this problem is front and center for the UK strategy, as it should be.
  • Public incidents—It’s refreshing to see major incidents that impact companies and organizations in the UK highlighted rather than hidden from public view. The document includes several incidents, such as the 2015 TalkTalk breach, and the 2016 attack on the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) payment system in Bangladesh, the Philippines, and the Ukrainian power grid incident. While these incidents did not all occur on UK soil or directly to UK organizations, their impact was still felt in the UK.
  • Diversity and inclusion—The UK is committed to increasing diversity while also addressing its cybersecurity skills shortage. The document states emphatically that “we will address the gender imbalance in cyber-focused professions, and reach people from more diverse backgrounds to make sure we are drawing from the widest available talent pool.” The need is so critical that cybersecurity has become known as a wonderful field for younger professionals to embark on a new career, even if it is not something that is well-known.
  • Public-private collaboration—Cybersecurity is a “team sport” and working together across private and public sectors is essential. Openly admitting this and accepting government responsibility is a key tenet of this strategy, described as, “Government has a clear leadership role, but we will also foster a wider commercial ecosystem, recognizing where industry can innovate faster than us.” The document also states, “We will set out more clearly the respective roles of government and industry, including how these might evolve over time.”

As we look at other areas that the strategy may wish to consider expanding into or elaborating upon in the coming years, three specific areas come to mind:

  • Links to money laundering and terrorist financing—While the initial 2016 version did not mention how the flow of money impacts and funds cybercrime, the NSCR March 2018 update did, with three specific references to money laundering and terrorist financing, explaining, “We will take a whole-of-government approach including with the Devolved Administrations to tackle serious and organized crime and publish an updated Serious and Organized Crime Strategy in 2018.” It also stated, “We remain a leading player in developing and applying economic sanctions [… and will] … continue using sanctions smartly to deliver national security outcomes after we have left the EU.”
  • Returning military veterans—Whether it be from armed conflicts or peace-keeping missions or other such activities, one way the UK could shrink the gap in cybersecurity skills would be to help military veterans transition into this field. The strategy states, “This skills gap represents a national vulnerability that must be resolved.” To that end, there are multiple paths that other countries have pursued that could be applied here.
  • Cloud computing—The terms “cloud” and “cloud computing” are not mentioned in the original 2016 strategy document or in the NSCR March 2018 update. Cloud-based security offerings are a mainstay of any cybersecurity strategy and bring with them enormous benefits, speed, operational efficiencies, and more.

Looking ahead, it is inspiring to see that in the NSCR March 2018 update to the National Cyber Security Strategy there is a real commitment to maintaining the course with the original 2016 strategy. The 2018 update states quite openly that “the NSCR cyber project confirms that our overarching strategic objectives still stand” and “We will continue to implement the National Cyber Security Strategy and ensure it keeps pace with the threat.”

Clearly the UK will stay the course with its original cybersecurity strategy with additional changes and enhancements. Moreover, with all eyes on the UK transition out of the EU, it’s important to demonstrate to the world community that cybersecurity strategy can not only exist but in fact can thrive even amid a massive overhaul in international geopolitics.

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