The UK is facing “ideologically motivated” cyber threats from Russia-aligned groups, Oliver Dowden will warn later at the CyberUK conference in Belfast.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is expected to use a speech in Belfast on Wednesday to confirm that the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) is issuing an “official threat notice” to operators of critical national infrastructure amid concerns about the growing cyber threat.
He will also use the address at the CyberUK conference to acknowledge that more needs to be done to improve salaries to attract cyber security experts into the civil service.
The NCSC alert points to what it calls the “emerging risk posed by state-aligned adversaries” in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with officials recommending that organisations “act now” to protect against future attacks.
Mr Dowden, who is also responsible for national investment security, is set to warn that cyber security is closely linked to economic prosperity as he unveils new measures to support businesses “on the front line of our cyber defences”.
The senior minister will reveal that in the last few months several Russia-aligned groups have turned to focus on the UK, with Mr Dowden claiming that the motive is to “disrupt or destroy”.
“These adversaries are ideologically motivated, rather than financially motivated,” he will say.
This, the minister will warn, means that they are less likely to show restraint and makes them “particularly concerning”.
“Disclosing this threat is not something we do lightly,” Mr Dowden is set to tell attendees.
“But we believe it is necessary… if we want these companies to understand the current risk they face, and take action to defend themselves and the country.”
The annual conference, which is run by the Government and attracts a host of officials and industry figures, will also hear from the head of the National Cyber Security Centre, Lindy Cameron, who is set to warn of the “epoch-defining” challenge China poses to the West.
Mr Dowden will announce plans to set “specific and ambitious cyber resilience targets” for all critical national infrastructure sectors to meet within two years, as well as moves to bring private sector businesses working on critical infrastructure into the scope of resilience regulations.
He will say: “These are the companies in charge of keeping our country running. Of keeping the lights on.
“Our shared prosperity depends on them taking their own security seriously.
“A bricks-and-mortar business wouldn’t survive if it left the back door open to criminals every night. Equally in today’s world, businesses can’t afford… to leave their digital back door open to cyber crooks and hackers.
“The safer we make our businesses, the safer we make our economy – and the more attractive we become as a destination for entrepreneurs.
“The fact that the UK has in the last few years taken cybersecurity so seriously already makes us one of the best places in the world to invest.”
Mr Dowden will also admit “the Government needs to break through its own glass ceiling” on attracting talented cyber-trained experts, with a promise to look at whether salaries can be improved.
He will say: “These are people protecting the systems and public services that millions of people across the country rely on every day, so we should want the very best people in charge of them. We must be competitive to stay ahead.”
Elsewhere in the speech will be an announcement of new cyber security measures, known as GovAssure and run from the Cabinet Office, to protect the UK’s critical IT systems.
Concerns have mounted in recent years about the danger posed by cyber attacks.
Only in January, an attack on Royal Mail caused severe disruption to parts of its services.
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