The UK Government’s recent review of national defence and security spending has highlighted an interesting global trend. Whilst the government reduced its spending on physical military equipment, it ring-fenced £650 million of new money to invest in a National Cyber Security Programme over four years.
In the modern era, we need to be increasingly mindful not only of physical military engagements overseas but also of the virtual threats that can impact everyone. Iain Lobban, director of British Intelligence Gathering at GCHQ, one of the three UK Intelligence Agencies, recently outlined how cybersecurity is not just a national or defence issue but is something which goes to the heart of our economic well-being and national interest.
And in an unprecedented address by the chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, Sir John Sawers described cybersecurity as an instrument of policy as much as diplomacy or military force. According to Sawers, attacks on government information and commercial secrets of our companies are happening all the time and electricity grids, our banking system, or anything controlled by computers could possibly be vulnerable.
I, for one, am heartened to hear such comments coming from high-profile figures. For while they collectively paint a grave picture of the threat facing the UK and indeed the entire world, it is high time that we see a debate open up around security that takes us beyond physical and military conflicts.
According to the latest findings from the Unisys Security Index, UK consumers are more concerned about bank card fraud and identity theft than even the threat of a physical terrorist attack or health epidemic. For the public’s wellbeing and sense of safety, we urgently need to review and address how we protect the infrastructure that society depends upon at home as well as overseas.
As the demands on government and private sector to counter cybersecurity threats escalate exponentially, we need to create consistent, centralised national strategies for dealing with such threats. The key is bringing our capabilities together into an integrated, holistic approach to security that encompasses both the physical and virtual realms.
These strategies should be led by foreign and domestic policy with close support from international development, justice, law enforcement, business, intelligence agencies and lastly, the military; all the while taking best practice from the private sector.
By tightening and organising our response to future security threats in a holistic and global way, we can fight from a position of strength.