UK cyberdefence strategy fixated on top-down security, say MPs

More funding for basic policing

The UK Government's much-vaunted Cyber Security Strategy is overly-fixated on high-level defence at the expense of investing in basic policing and consumer protection, the Home Affairs Select Committee has warned.

The Committee's report is not the first time the narrow focus of the Government's cyber-defence strategy has been pulled apart, but at 165 pages it is perhaps the most comprehensive and uncomfortable analysis to date.

The fundamental problem recounted to the Committee by expert witnesses was that the lion's share of the £650 million ($980 million) earmarked for the Strategy had been eaten by GCHQ and the other intelligence agencies, leaving policing to pick up much smaller sums.

According to one Committee witness, Commissioner Adrian Leppard of the City of London Police, a quarter of his workforce of specialised digital police could be axed in spending cuts.

Meanwhile, the Committee had received ample evidence that the levels of lower-level digital crime against citizens now vied with or exceeded conventional crime in terms of its effect, something Government seemed almost oblivious to. "At a time when fraud and e-crime is going up, the capability of the country to address it is going down," said the report.

"Ministers have acknowledged the increasing threat of e-crime but it is clear that sufficient funding and resources have not been allocated to the law enforcement responsible for tackling it."

"We should be putting more of the cyber budget into policing and less of it into the intelligence sphere, into cyber war," the authors quoted Professor Ross Anderson as having argued.

Some important changes do appear to be on the way, including the foundation of the new National Crime Agency (NCA), incorporating the National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU), which will partially devolve e-crime reporting and analysis to regional hubs.

The Committee praised this reform, saying that it "rationalises the current confusing plethora of different agencies and police organisations involved and should enable a more co-ordinated approach, strong strategic leadership and development of the elite level of skill required to tackle this cyber war."

However, confusingly, the National Fraud Reporting Centre and National Fraud Reporting Bureau were not going to become part of the NCA, potentially dividing roles in a way that caused overlap, the MPs cautioned.

As an interesting aside, the Committee was also critical of government departments that had become over-reliant on the Cabinet Office/Detica's now infamous 2011 guesstimate of annual cybercrime losses to the UK economy as being £27 billion despite the fact that few experts appeared to take the number seriously.

"We are puzzled that the Government continues to use highly controversial figures, in which independent experts or indeed other government departments such as the Ministry of Defence have little confidence, as its basis for policy-making," said the authors.

If the Government thought it had fixed cybercrime policy with a series of announcements it was probably wrong. Parliamentary select Committees are famous for not pulling any punches but it is starting to look as it it's slow chipping away at the Government might eventually have some effect.

"Ultimately, there is no e-crime, there is just crime. There is no cyber Terrorism, there is just Terrorism. There is no Cyber Warfare, there is just warfare," commented Damballa global technical consultant, Adrian Culley."

"We all need to know how to be safe in our digital lives and a 'cyber proficiency' programme is now required to help empower people of all ages. The skill level must be raised across society, including for those officials tasked with responsibilities in these areas."

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