Ransomware is the key threat facing UK, says NCSC chief

The chief executive of the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has said that ransomware is the key threat facing the UK and urged the public and business to take it seriously.

Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute at its annual security lecture on Monday, Lindy Cameron warned of the “cumulative effect” failing to properly deal with the rising threat.

Cameron said that think tanks are facing the threat of nation state espionage groups, warning that it is “highly likely” they seek to gain strategic insights into government policy and commercially sensitive information.

The NCSC chief, which is part of GCHQ, also revealed that for the vast majority of UK citizens and organisations, the primary key threat is not state actors but cyber criminals.

She said that building organisational cyber resilience, in combination with government capabilities and law enforcement action, is the most effective way to counter threats in cyberspace.

“For most UK citizens and businesses, and indeed for the vast majority of critical national infrastructure providers and government service providers, the primary key threat is not state actors but cyber criminals, and in particular the threat of ransomware,” said Cameron at the virtual event. “While government is uniquely able to disrupt and deter our adversaries, it is network defenders in industry, and the steps that all organisations and citizens are taking that are protecting the UK from attacks, day in, day out.”

She said that the protection businesses and people provide is “crucial” to the digital transformation of the economy, adding that every organisation, whether large or small, has a role to play.

In her speech, Cameron noted that the ransomware ecosystem is evolving through the Ransomware as a Service model (RaaS), whereby ransomware variants and commodity listings are available off the shelf for a one-off payment or a share of the profits.

As the RaaS model has become increasingly successful, with criminal groups securing significant ransom payments from large profitable businesses who cannot afford to lose their data to encryption or to suffer the down time while their services are offline, the market for ransomware has become increasingly “professional,” she explained.

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