UK IT leaders say government can't be trusted to defend businesses against cyber warfare

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Fewer than half of UK IT leaders believe the government is capable of protecting its citizens and businesses from an act of cyber warfare.

Confidence has deteriorated significantly over the past 12 months, according to new research from Armis. While 77% of respondents trusted the government to protect them a year ago, the figure has now plummeted to 48%.

This lack of faith is far more significant than in European countries; in France only 42% respondents said they didn’t believe the government could protect from an act of cyber warfare, with Germany coming in even lower at 40%.

Around 37% UK IT leaders also worry that cyber war can impact the integrity of an electoral process – a concern that’s particularly pertinent with a general election likely to take place before the end of the year. This figure rose sharply among those respondents in the government sector (60%), medical, healthcare and pharmaceuticals (67%), and financial services (71%).

"The IT industry's overwhelming sentiment that the government will be unable to keep citizens safe and the country secure underscores a critical shortfall in defensive measures to date," said David Critchley, regional director for UK and Ireland at Armis.

"In this pivotal election year, it's imperative for the government and organisations to proactively rebuild national confidence by enhancing defensive cyber security strategies, coming together where they can to maximise forward strides."

Geopolitical tensions with Russia and China are of a particular source of concern for IT leaders, with 46% saying this increases the risk of cyber warfare. Half, meanwhile, believe that North Korea’s cyber capabilities have the potential to instigate a full-scale cyber war that could cripple critical infrastructure worldwide.

While 56% of UK IT leaders state they are concerned about the threat of cyber warfare, there’s a dichotomy in their reaction to these concerns as only 27% say they have a plan in place to handle such a situation. Additionally, one in five say their company has not allocated sufficient budget for cyber security software, people, and processes.

When asked if they'd experienced more threat activity on their organisation’s network in the past six months, 54% noted it stayed the same, while 18% saw an increase. This, though, rises dramatically to 37% for utilities organisations and 42% for those in medical, healthcare and pharmaceutical – both sectors frequently targeted by state actors.

According to the government, the UK is the third most targeted country in the world for cyber attacks, after the US and Ukraine. In the government Cyber Security Strategy 2022-2030, cyber threats to UK critical national infrastructure (CNI) are highlighted as an area of particular concern.

The government is currently carrying out a consultation on the cyber resilience of the UK’s CNI, looking at the current state of security, the support the sector needs and standards and regulations for cyber resilience and preparedness, supply chain access and partners.

Emma Woollacott

Emma Woollacott is a freelance journalist writing for publications including the BBC, Private Eye, Forbes, Raconteur and specialist technology titles.