March 2, 2024

UK Vulnerable to Catastrophic Cyberattacks, Warns Report

Raising alarm over the UK’s lack of cybersecurity planning, the Parliament’s Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy (JCNSS) has warned that a ransomware attack can bring the country to a standstill at any moment.

In its report, the committee revealed that Britain’s planning and investment have left large sections of critical infrastructure vulnerable to ransomware attacks.

The report also suggests stripping the Home Office of the responsibility of dealing with ransomware attacks and handing it over to the Cabinet Office, under the direct oversight of the Deputy Prime Minister.

Home Office Accused of Prioritizing Other Issues

The JCNSS also went on to accuse the Home Office of granting political importance to other issues over cybersecurity, citing it as a main reason behind the current, dire situation.

According to the report, former home secretary Suella Braverman, focused on small boats and illegal migration while showing “no interest” in the cybersecurity issue.

The report describes the UK’s regulatory frameworks as outdated and insufficient, warning that the country might suffer a crippling cyber-attack on its critical national infrastructure (CNI) at any time.

According to the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), essential national assets such as water supply, transportation, energy supply, telecommunications, and healthcare are covered under CNI.

The UK has failed to invest sufficiently in cybersecurity safeguards crucial to preventing large-scale attacks despite being warned by the NCSC, the report stated. Like the JCNSS, the NCSC warned about ransomware attacks too – especially from Russia, China, and North Korea.

The committee also asked the NCSC for a private briefing on preparations to protect the country against cyberattacks. With the general elections coming up soon, the JCNSS expressed concerns over potential attempts by cyber criminals to hinder the democratic process.

The committee emphasized in its report that ransomware must be made a political priority if the UK intends to avoid being hostage by such attacks. It also called for more resources to be dedicated to dealing with the looming “threat to national security”.

A Home Office spokesperson issued a statement, welcoming the JCNSS’s report and announcing that it will release a full response in due course.

Countering the committee’s accusations of non-action, the spokesperson claimed that the country is in a good position to tackle cyber threats.

The UK has also invested £2.6bn under its Cyber Security Strategy and published government-backed minimum standards for cyber security – the first of its kind, through the Cyber Essentials scheme launched by the NCSC, the spokesperson added.

A Growing Ransomware Threat Looms

Recent times have seen multiple incidents of major ransomware attacks on public services. Last year, the NHS suffered a cyberattack that led to the attackers stealing vast amounts of sensitive patient information.

Another crippling cyberattack left the Redcar and Cleveland council locked out of its systems for nearly three weeks in 2020. As revealed by a councilor at the time, the estimated cost for repairing the damages stood between £11m and £18m.

Relying on a “vast estate of legacy infrastructure” including outdated IT systems that have already reached the end of their lifecycle, the NHS is a particularly vulnerable target.

While the impact of ransomware attacks has primarily been financial so far, future attacks might also pose “a threat to physical security or safety of human life”, the JCNSS report warns.

                                                                                                                        

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