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Government confronts cyber threats posed to businesses and personal data

by Brian Sims

Business secretary Andrea Leadsom has announced that British businesses and members of the public are set to be better protected from hostile cyber attacks and online threats like disinformation and cyber bullying thanks to a new Government-backed partnership with industry.

The Conservative Government is partnering with Arm in a project to develop new chip technologies that are more resistant to cyber threats, all backed by £36 million in funding. This is the next phase of the Government’s Digital Security by Design initiative, which is also backed by Google and Microsoft.

The average cost of a cyber attack on a business – where a breach has resulted in the loss of data or assets – has increased by more than £1,000 since 2018 to £4,180. While doing the basics, such as having strong passwords and updating software regularly, are the best defence for businesses, having innovative hardware and systems solutions are critical for defending advanced technology.

This project has the potential to prevent hackers from remotely taking control of computer systems as well as targeting cyber attacks and breaches, meaning more businesses providing online services are better protected. It will also create new business opportunities and help boost productivity.

Leadsom commented: “Cyber attacks can have a particularly nasty impact on businesses, from costing them thousands of pounds in essential revenue to reputational harm. Cyber criminals operate in the shadows, with the severity, scale and complexity of breaches constantly evolving. It’s critical that we’re ahead of the game and developing new technologies and methods to confront future threats, supporting our businesses and giving them peace of mind to deliver their products and services safely. Investing in our world-leading researchers and businesses to develop better defence systems makes good business and security sense.”

Matt Warman, minister for digital and broadband, added: “The Government wants the UK to be the safest place to be online and the best place to start and grow a digital business. As these investments show, we’re determined to create the right environment to foster our thriving digital economy while giving people renewed confidence and trust in online services. We will always be firm in our support for the UK’s tech sector. Thanks to our work with the UK’s world-leading academic institutions and our business-friendly environment, we’re helping entrepreneurs use technology to improve people’s lives and find solutions to future challenges.”

Tackling disinformation

A further project, backed by £18 million of Government investment through the Strategic Priorities Fund, will tackle some of the dangers of the online world from privacy abuses and the wrongful use of data like disinformation and online fraud.

The initiative will help provide solutions to some of the issues identified in the Government’s Online Harms White Paper, which sets out plans for world-leading legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. The project will help in the understanding of what businesses and individuals need to reduce the harm they’re exposed to by using online platforms and will aim to develop more trustworthy technology.

This will help to prevent incidents of online fraud, phishing e-mails, impersonating organisations online and viruses or other malware like ransomware, which cost the UK economy millions of pounds in lost productivity.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, CEO of UK Research and Innovation, said: “It’s crucial that our citizens and businesses are able to access digitally secure products and services that are not vulnerable to cyber threats. The investments announced will help to ensure the UK has a robust system in place to withstand cyber threats and create a safer future online, thereby increasing trust and productivity in our economy.”

Arm’s chief architect and Fellow Richard Grisenthwaite observed: “Achieving truly robust security for a world of a trillion connected devices requires a radical shift in how technology companies approach cyber threats. Research into new ways of building inherently more cyber-resilient chip platforms is critical. Our first step is to create prototype hardware, the Morello Board, as a real-world test platform for prototype architecture developed by Arm that uses the University of Cambridge’s CHERI protection model. It will enable industry and academic partners to assess the security benefits of foundational new technologies in which we’re making significant investments.”

This investment comes in addition to £1.9 billion that the Government is already investing through its National Cyber Security Strategy to make the UK the safest place to live and work online.

Reaction from the industry

Ilia Kolochenko, founder and CEO of web security company ImmuniWeb, informed Risk Xtra: “The UK serves as a remarkable example of Government-led cyber security initiatives serving the nation. With the reportedly settled Brexit deal, the UK will likely remain the European centre for cyber security, providing a safe harbour for businesses and a fertile ground for emerging cyber security start-ups.”

Kolochenko went on to state: “Talking about this particular transaction, I would, however, be cautiously optimistic. First of all, the number of attacks and exploitation vectors that are reliably addressable on a hardware level remains pretty narrow. In addition, the time UK business require to migrate to the new hardware platforms will be quite long, allowing attackers to enjoy their impunity for the time being.”

He added: “Most of the successful attacks nowadays are caused by incomplete or outdated inventory of digital assets. A majority of businesses in the UK and abroad don’t know where exactly their data is stored, how many applications or APIs they have or how many mobile devices are connected to their internal networks. That’s a root cause of the problem and one that deserves urgent attention and mitigation. Therefore, I would urge investment in a supplementary cyber security initiative that’s aimed at bringing visibility of data and assets to UK businesses.”

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