A new UK cybersecurity "nerve centre", set up to combat digital intrusion by hostile state actors, loss of personal data, and other crime, has already mobilised to respond to 188 attacks in three months.
A new cybersecurity nerve centre was officially opened in London by the Queen on Tuesday, with the aim of making the UK the "hardest target" for global hackers.
The government has invested almost £2 billion in the UK's National Cyber Security Centre
(NCSC) at a time of growing concern not only about espionage and hacking by criminal gangs, but also about attempts to interfere with the democratic process, as in Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and the theft of confidential details of millions of Americans from the Office of Personnel Management.
At the ceremony to mark the official opening of the centre in Victoria, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond also warned that the business community must "sharpen its approach" to counter the increasing frequency, severity and sophistication of cyber attacks.
"In the first three months of its existence, the NCSC has already mobilised to respond to attacks on 188 occasions," Mr Hammond said, adding that the centre would work hand-in-hand with industry to keep the UK safe.
He added that 65 per cent of large companies reported a cyber breach or attack in the past year. "Yet nine out of 10 businesses don't even have an incident management plan in the event of a cyber breach. Business has to sharpen its approach as the scale of the threat from cyber increases and intensifies."
Mr Hammond announced an initiative that will see 100 NCSC secondments granted to private sector staff to work in the centre. He said the government "cannot protect businesses and the general public from the risks of cyber attack on its own".
Ciaran Martin, the centre's chief executive, told the BBC, "We want to make the UK the hardest target. We have had significant losses of personal data, significant intrusions by hostile state actors, significant reconnaissance against critical national infrastructure - and our job is to make sure we deal with it in the most effective way possible.
"We will help secure our critical services, lead the response to the most serious incidents and improve the underlying security of the internet through technological improvement and advice to citizens and organisations."
Asked about claims that Russia had used cyber attacks in an attempt to interfere with the last year's US presidential campaign and might try to disrupt upcoming elections in Germany and France, Mr Martin said, "I think there has been a significant change in the Russian approach to cyber attacks and the willingness to carry them out and, clearly, that's something we need to be prepared to deal with.
"There has been an identifiable trend in Russian attacks in the West, in terms of focusing on critical national industries and political and democratic processes. And so it follows from that that we will look to be sure we are protecting those sectors in the UK as well as we possibly can."
The NCSC, which is part of the national intelligence agency GCHQ, will now be at the forefront of the battle against cyber attacks – a crucial task, as the UK is one of the world's most digitally dependent economies, with the sector estimated to be worth more than £118 billion a year.
Alison Whitney, deputy director of the NCSC, said, "We do so much business online. Every citizen in the United Kingdom, pretty much, is accessing some service online, be it just things like internet shopping or more and more the kinds of service that we get from government. Making sure that we can do that securely is more and more important to everybody in the UK.
"That's really what the NCSC is here to do. We say, and we really do mean, that we are here to make the UK the safest place to do business and to live online."
Click for more Re:locate news and features on Enterprise or Technology.
Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online Directory