Delivering the UK’s competitive edge in cyber to meet the Integrated Review ambition

The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy (the Integrated Review) makes clear that the UK’s ambition is to be a leading, democratic cyber power in an increasingly contested domain. Sustaining a competitive edge in cyber, through advancements in science and technology, is fundamental to achieving strategic advantage.

In an increasingly digitised world, cyber will become an indispensable means of protecting the UK’s security and prosperity. A fully integrated ‘whole-of-cyber’ approach to this domain is therefore essential.

The Integrated Review describes the development of a comprehensive cyber strategy, the formation of the National Cyber Force and a new ‘ministerial small group’ to coordinate activities. However, there is a risk that existing siloes will be reinforced without genuine integration across government, industry and academia.

The UK should go further to unify and align its whole-of-cyber approach, while building on existing partnerships with appropriate investment, to enable the UK to operate collectively and sustainably.

The UK can go further in its approach to cyber strategy and policy

The UK’s effectiveness as a cyber power needs to be more than the sum of each departments’ local strategies, however good they may be individually. Nor will infrequent releases of ‘grand narratives’ keep pace with real-world events. Coordinating and developing our cyber capabilities within a continuously evolving landscape will require constant engagement, adaptiveness, and an ability to bring diverse groups together, drawing on expertise from across the cyber ecosystem.

The formation of a ministerial group to cohere cyber decision-making across government is an encouraging start and should provide the necessary leadership and oversight. In addition, the UK should invest in integration by supporting the ministerial group with an implementation group, at the pan-government level. This would bring experts from government, industry and academia together to make real the ‘whole-of-cyber’ approach that will inform ministerial decision-making.

Cyber spans traditional capabilities, so integration is key

Cyber, as a capability and operating domain, cannot yet be viewed in the same way as Air, Land and Maritime, which have established organisational homes and capability investment.

Excellence is not within the grasp of any single Government department, irrespective of how it is funded or organised. To deal with this, inter-departmental boundaries need to be seamlessly crossed without the friction of self-interest. The strategic, operational and tactical levers of power need to be integrated across government for the good of the nation. This will require senior leaders across government to understand how cyber capabilities can be used to maximise operational effect.

Cyber investment must develop and sustain skills

The Integrated Review proposes significant investment in science and technology. A significant proportion of this will need to be directed towards cyber for the UK to achieve its ambitions here. The public and private sector will need to work together to invest in, and develop, a sustainable cyber ecosystem. Talent is consistently in short supply, so all parties will need to collaborate to develop a scalable pipeline of cyber-skilled people to support the growth required.

Investing in non-graduate development, additional investment into cyber training programmes such as NCSC Cyber First, and increased emphasis on cyber skills as part of the national curriculum will help sustain our cyber ecosystem. Use of innovative aptitude and attitude assessment will broaden the pool of potential recruits, and investment in AI will help relieve highly-skilled talent from repetitive tasks and act as a force multiplier. But people with the right skills will always remain the most valuable commodity. Cyberspace will be critical to future frontiers, and the threats are wide-ranging and complex. However, comprehensive and continuous engagement across government, academia and industry will help unify our approach and capabilities. Built on sustainable foundations, the UK has an opportunity to capitalise on its position of strength, operate collectively, and shape cyberspace to ensure it reflects our values.

The proposals in the Integrated Review are welcome – and they are just the start of a challenging, and essential, journey.

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