Cybersecurity in an Age of Austerity

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As election time rolls around again in the UK, the media is going into overdrive with coverage of ‘the road to No. 10’. Naturally, there has been, and will continue to be, much appraisal of the current government’s legacy.

Analysis of the coalition’s time in power shines the spotlight on the drastic cuts to public services and spending that has characterized the last five years. The government defends its record, saying its hardline budgetary policies have created the fastest growing economy in the G7. The opposition argues that cuts have left our society more divided than ever, with the poorest most brutally affected, yet the least likely to see the benefits of the growth we are supposed to be experiencing.

Against this backdrop of cuts, it’s difficult to find too much to be especially optimistic about. However, for IT and technology, the last five years have been a little less dreary. Indeed, in terms of cybersecurity, the story is atypical in that funding has not been in short supply.

Back in 2010 the government promised £650m spending on cybersecurity over four years, with further funding to follow by 2016. Turn the clock forward five years, and the coalition has successfully delivered on its pledge amidst a culture of cuts to other sectors, particularly defense budgets. To date, £860m has been spent on cybersecurity under the current government.

Given that the UK didn’t even have a cybersecurity strategy before 2009, one year before the last general election, it’s impossible to make true comparisons with previous governments. Nonetheless, the initiatives that have been implemented since 2010 represent a positive step that demonstrates a response to the rising importance of cybersecurity.

The £860m of public money has been used in a variety of ways. According to the government’s own report, of the £210m set aside for 2014/15, £93.2m – around 44% – will be spent on defense capabilities. A further £30m will go on “mainstreaming cyber throughout defence.”

Contrast education and skills where £10.7m, around 5.1%, will be allocated. At a time when the need for skills and training is particularly acute, one criticism is that the balance should be shifted further in favor of this area.

"To date, £860m has been spent on cybersecurity under the current government"

Nonetheless, the response from industry suggests a high level of satisfaction. Nigel Harrison, a director at the Cyber Security Challenge UK, told Infosecurity that he feels the government has been “world leading in what it’s done.”

He added: “It’s been a huge investment – £860m over five years is a massive amount of public money, and it’s been matched by industry. We are about 50% funded by the national cybersecurity program and 50% by private sector companies. There is a force multiplier out there; every pound of public money is getting backed up.”

In addition to funding within defense and education, the government is assisting businesses through its Cyber Essentials Scheme, while the establishment of a National Cyber Crime Unit allocates resources to tackle the growing problem of cybercrime. All things considered, it’s fair to say the government’s Cyber Security Strategy has got off to a good start.

Now, if only we could get our politicians to stop talking about banning encryption, our intelligence agencies from carrying out illegal information sharing, and the course of justice potentially being undermined through surveillance, we could all be toasting five years well spent.

But as far as funding goes, there are certainly areas of this government’s legacy that make less comfortable reading. And while cybersecurity is not the kind of issue on which elections are lost and won, for the industry, it’s reassuring to know that the government is paying due attention to the issue.

Let’s hope, whatever the make-up of parliament come May, that cybersecurity continues to get the attention it deserves in Westminster.

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