National Cyber Security Centre officially opens as 'guinea pig' for piloting UK cyberdefence strategies

GCHQ's new arm will test strategies and schemes for businesses and industry to follow in future.

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The UK's National Cyber Security Centre HQ in London.

Image: NCSC

In its continuing effort to reduce the impact of cyberattacks against the UK, the British government is setting itself up as a 'guinea pig' for testing new measures and cybersecurity defences that it wants businesses and industry to eventually follow.

The testing plan has been announced at the official opening of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) in central London, a new part of the GCHQ intelligence service tasked with protecting the UK against cyber espionage and cyberattacks -- particularly those targeting critical national infrastructure.

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"We're actively working to reduce the harm caused by cyber attacks against the UK and will use the government as a guinea pig for all the measures we want to see done by industry at national scale," said NCSC Technical Director Dr Ian Levy.

Initiatives by the NCSC include will provide services such as free website vulnerability scanning for the public sector, working to take down phishing websites, and encouraging young people to take up careers in cybersecurity through schemes like the CyberFirst campaign, which targets teenage girls in particular.

"These initiatives illustrate the sort of cutting-edge innovation the NCSC will spearhead to make Britain as safe as possible to both live and work online -- and we'll do it transparently, driven by evidence and publishing our results," said Dr Levy.

The centre has actually been operating since October, but 14 February sees the NCSC officially opened by The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh.

The royals received a tour of the new facility in the company of Chancellor Phillip Hammond, Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon, Minister for the Cabinet Office Ben Gummer, and Minister of State for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock.

Chancellor Hammond has previously spoken of the importance cybersecurity, warning that the country must take greater steps to defend itself in cyberspace and even strike back if it comes under cyberattack.

A national strategy

The NCSC forms part of the government's National Cyber Security Strategy, an effort to boost the UK's defences against a variety of online threats.

"This cutting-edge centre will cement our position as world leader in cybersecurity and work carried out here will ensure our country remains resilient to potential attacks," said Hammond.

"Britain is transforming its capabilities in cyber defence and deterrence. It's crucial we take action now to defend ourselves and protect our economy,"‎ Hammond added.

The NCSC will work closely with law enforcement and the wider public sector, including the National Crime Agency (NCA), to support cyber security awareness campaigns.

A focus on protecting the government and public sector comes as no surprise, especially as the National Health Service finds itself under regular attack from cybercriminals.

High-profile incidents in recent months include a Trojan malware attack taking systems offline at Barts Health NHS Trust, the largest hospital group in the UK, while a ransomware attack at Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust took three hospitals offline and led to the cancellation of 2,800 appointments.

The government itself has been accused of a 'chaotic' approach to cybersecurity, with the Public Accounts Committee recently raising concerns about national security due to what it dubbed "inconsistent, dysfunctional and chaotic' approach to cyber defences by the government".

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