You’ve been hacked, now what? How the UK’s cybersecurity and privacy watchdogs deal with incidents

New framework looks to improve understanding about how to react following a cyberattack.

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The UK's data privacy watchdog and its cybersecurity agency have outlined how the two work together with companies that have been hacked. 

The National Cyber Security Centre, the cybersecurity arm of GCHQ and the UK's technical authority on cyber threats, and the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), the UK's independent data protection authority, are separate entities – but both have roles in the event of cyberattacks.

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While the NCSC aims to provide help and guidance to organisations that have fallen victim to malicious attacks, and prevent them happening in the first place, the ICO aims to monitor and enforce General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Under GDPR, organisations need to contact the ICO in the event of a breach so that the ICO can take appropriate remedial action.

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In a joint session at the NCSC's CYBERUK 19 conference in Glasgow, the NCSC and the ICO outlined how the two organisations work together and create a better understanding for cyberattack victims who need to contact them with the aim of making it easier to deal with the right one at the right time.

"It's important organisations understand what to expect if they suffer a cybersecurity breach. The NCSC has an important role to play in keeping UK organisation safe online, while our role reflects the impact cyber incidents have on the people whose personal data is lost, stolen or compromised," said ICO deputy commissioner for operations, James Dipple-Johnstone.

"Organisations need to be clear on the legal requirements when to report these breaches to the ICO, and the potential implications, including sizeable fines, if these requirements aren't followed."

In the event of a cyberattack, the NCSC will engage directly with victims to understand the nature of the incident and provide free and confidential advice to help mitigate its impact in the immediate aftermath. The NCSC will also encourage affected organisations to meet requirements under GDPR – the need to report the incident to the ICO. But it will not share information reported to it on a confidential basis with the ICO without first seeking the consent of the organisation concerned.

The ICO, meanwhile, sets out to help organisations mitigate risks and set up investigations into the incidents. It will check that organisations have adequately protected any personal data put at risk and have properly met their legal responsibilities. If they're found not to have done so, they could be fined under GDPR.

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The ICO and the NCSC share anonymised and aggregated information with each other to assist with their understanding of risk and work together to promote cybersecurity and resistance to threats.

"This framework will enable both organisations to best serve the UK during data breaches, while respecting each other's remits and responsibilities. The development of this understanding is as a result of a constructive working relationship between our organisations, and we remain committed to an open dialogue on strategic issues," said NCSC CEO Ciaran Martin.

"While it's right that we work closely together, the NCSC will never pass specific information to a regulator without first seeking the consent of the victim," he added.

Going forward, the NCSC will also set out additional information on its working relationship with other law enforcement colleagues who respond to cyberattacks in an effort to further boost clarity.

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