New fines for essential service operators with poor cyber security

Organisations which fail to implement effective cyber security measures could be fined as much as £17m or 4% of global turnover, as part of plans to make the UK’s essential networks and infrastructure “safe, secure and resilient against the risk of future cyber attacks”.

The plans are being considered as part of a consultation launched today by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to decide how to implement the Network and Information Systems (NIS) Directive from May 2018.

Fines would be a last resort, and they will not apply to operators that have assessed the risks adequately, taken appropriate security measures, and engaged with competent authorities but still suffered an attack.

The NIS Directive relates to loss of service rather than loss of data, which falls under the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

Utilities, transport and health

It will help make sure UK operators in electricity, transport, water, energy, transport, health and digital infrastructure are prepared to deal with the increasing numbers of cyber threats, said the UK Government in a statement. It will also cover other threats affecting IT such as power failures, hardware failures and environmental hazards.

UK Minister for Digital Matt Hancock said:: “We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to live and be online, with our essential services and infrastructure prepared for the increasing risk of cyber attack and more resilient against other threats such as power failures and environmental hazards.

“The NIS Directive is an important part of this work and I encourage all public and private organisations in those sectors to take part in this consultation so together we can achieve this aim.”

Part of £1.9bn strategy

The NIS Directive, once implemented, will form an important part of the Government’s five-year £1.9bn National Cyber Security Strategy. It will compel essential service operators to make sure they are taking the necessary action to protect their IT systems.

The Government is proposing a number of security measures in line with existing cyber security standards.

Operators will be required to develop a strategy and policies to understand and manage their risk; to implement security measures to prevent attacks or system failures, including measures to detect attacks, develop security monitoring, and to raise staff awareness and training; to report incidents as soon as they happen; and to have systems in place to ensure that they can recover quickly after any event, with the capability to respond and restore systems.

Any operator which takes cyber security seriously should already have such measures in place.

The Government is fully committed to defending against cyber threats and a five-year National Cyber Security Strategy (NCSS) was announced in November 2016, supported by £1.9 billion of transformational investment. The strategy includes opening the National Cyber Security Centre and offering free online advice as well as training schemes to help businesses protect themselves.

Consultation welcomed

NCSC chief executive Ciaran Martin said: “We welcome this consultation and agree that many organisations need to do more to increase their cyber security.

“The NCSC is committed to making the UK the safest place in the world to live and do business online, but we can’t do this alone.

“Everyone has a part to play and that’s why since our launch we have been offering organisations expert advice on our website and the Government’s Cyber Essentials Scheme.”

The consultation proposes similar penalties for flaws in network and information systems as those coming for data protection with the General Data Protection Regulation, due to be in force by May 2018.

The Government will shortly hold workshops with operators so they can provide feedback on the proposals.