The National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), part of intelligence agency GCHQ, is designed to improve Britain’s resilience to attacks and act as an operational nerve centre. It started work in October 2016 as part of a governmental £1.9bn five-year strategy, but was officially opened by Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II on 14 February 2017.
The official opening of NCSC follows reports from Ciaran Martin, Chief Exec of NCSC, that Britain’s security has been threatened by 188 high-level cyber attacks in the last three months, which the intelligence agency classed as Category Two or Three attacks.
The UK has not yet experienced a Category One attack which would be something akin to the theft of confidential details of millions of Americans from the Office of Personnel Management.
“We want to make the UK the hardest target,” Mr Martin said. “We have had significant losses of personal data, significant intrusions by hostile state actors, significant reconnaissance against critical national infrastructure - and our job is to make sure we deal with it in the most effective way possible.”
As well as protecting against and responding to high-end attacks on government and business, the NCSC also aims to protect the economy and wider society.
The UK is one of the most digitally dependent economies, with the digital sector estimated to be worth over £118bn per year. Not only then is there a concern that a cyber-attack on infrastructure that could shut down power plants, but also that there could be a loss of confidence in the digital economy from consumers and businesses, as a result of online criminals exploiting vulnerabilities.
In the past, UK cyber protection was largely situated within GCHQ in Cheltenham, which had come into constant criticism for being overly secretive, and so the NCSC aims to be more public facing and accessible.
The Security Centre will also protect a far wider range of sectors, rather than just government and national security-related industries, like defence, as well as working on a voluntary basis with political parties and giving advice to high-profile individuals on how to protect their sensitive data.
The NCSC is working on trial services to pro-actively discover vulnerabilities in public sector websites, help government departments better manage spoofing of their email, and take down tens of thousands of phishing sites affecting the UK.
Ciaran Martin has however warned that the Government will need help from all quarters to keep the UK safe, “Government cannot protect business and the general public from the risks of cyber-attack on its own. It has to be a team effort. It is only in this way that we can stay one step ahead of the scale and pace of the threat that we face.