In a bid to combat ever-rising threats of cyber-terrorism and hacking, the government has announced the formation of a new programme that will provide support and advice to cyber-security start-up ventures across the UK.

Dubbed the ‘Early Stage Accelerator Programme’, the £250,000 initiative is designed to provide start-ups with solutions to develop products and services that combat cyber-attacks. Businesses can submit applications as of next month as the programme officially opens in March 2016. “The UK’s strong and growing digital economy is changing the way we live and work,” said John Whittingdale, secretary of state for culture, media and sport. “As technologies continue to evolve there will be an increased demand for secure products and services, and this new programme will ensure the best ideas from our brightest minds can help keep the UK safe in cyberspace.”

The cyber security industry in the UK has grown by 70 per cent over the past three years, and is now the provider of 100,000 jobs. The industry is currently worth £17.6bn, a figure that is set to rise as Chancellor George Osborne has announced plans to up government spending on cyber security to £1.9bn by 2020. The Early Stage Accelerator Programme specifically will be run in conjunction with Cyber London and the Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT), based at Queen’s University Belfast, and is funded by the Government’s National Cyber Security Programme. It has been devised to take a collaborative approach to combat the rising rates of cyber-attacks and data breaches in the UK, as the rates of frequency and severity of attacks are cause for mounting concern. In a recent survey conducted by the Business Continuity Institute, 85 per cent of global risk experts that were polled revealed they believed cyber-attacks to be the biggest threat to business in 2016.

According to the government, the new initiative is designed to meet a number of targets:

  • The programme will provide early stage cyber-security start-ups with a space in which they can collaborate and develop
  • The programme will increase the rate of cyber-security start-up ventures in the UK
  • The programme will help entrepreneurs develop and test the commercial validity of their ideas before making them into businesses
  • The programme will provide a large cyber-security knowledge base from which businesses can access ideas and information

Kirsten Connell, Managing Director of Cyber London, believes that the programme will add a layer of much-needed support to start-ups looking to take advantage of the UK’s thriving tech space. “We believe the UK is one of the world’s best places to build cyber security businesses, and this programme will help to make it easier for innovation to develop into commercial success,” she said.

How safe is your business?

Numbers from global cyber-security firm Kaspersky Lab have revealed that the number of attacks carried out by cybercriminals on businesses doubled in 2015.

Last year, 58 per cent of corporate PCs were affected by at least one attempted malware infection, while 29 per cent of business computers were to some form of internet-based attack at least once. There was a 7 per cent increase in the number of attacks that targeted the Android platform specifically, and it was revealed that financial organisations such as stock and currency exchanges, banks, investment funds and like-minded businesses are at heightened risk of attack.

Data breaches can be incredibly costly for large companies; when phone and broadband provider TalkTalk was cyber-attacked in October 2015, the company was forced to pay out £35m in compensation to 157,000 affected customers. TalkTalk Chief Executive Dido Harding said at the time that the company was “absolutely comfortable” they could afford to take the hit, but for smaller companies, similar data breaches can bankrupt and sink a venture in minutes.

Tips for cyber security

While cyber-security start-ups develop new products to keep companies safe online, there isn’t a need to wait for these to come to market to put a protection strategy in place. There are many things UK enterprises of any size can do to stay safe online:

  • Start early. From the moment you start trading online, ensure you have anti-virus software installed and a firewall in place. You should carry out regular scans across all your computers to ensure any issues are quickly found and identified.
  • Consult with experts. There are hundreds of cyber-security professionals across the UK available to implement strategies with companies of all sizes. Connecting with an expert in cyber-security can help you put in place a strong defensive plan of action.
  • Have a contingency plan in place. Following the cyber-attack, TalkTalk shares plummeted by 11 per cent. Any breach in data can be devastating to a company not just financially, but also in terms of reputation. Should you be unfortunate enough to succumb to an attack, make sure you have a plan in place to react to it quickly to reinforce the faith of your shareholders and customers; this can include having a PR firm on standby to prepare statements and liaise with affected parties to keep damage to a minimum wherever possible.
  • Create a comprehensive strategy. Cyber-attacks can be both external and internal, so make sure you have protection in place against both. These systems should be tested regularly to isolate malicious content and detect unauthorized log-ins/attempted log-ins.
  • Control use of removable media. Things like USBs can transmit malware and other malicious content, so make sure there is a clear policy in place to govern the use of removable hardware. Ensure all content is thoroughly scanned before it can be downloaded onto your system.
Written by Anna Lemos