Ben Gummer: Edinburgh cyber centre vital to UK defence

The first responsibility of government is to keep our nation safe.

Ben Gummer opened the new Cyber centre of excellence in Edinburgh today
Ben Gummer opened the new Cyber centre of excellence in Edinburgh today

Traditionally this has been understood as the threat from external physical attack, which is why the Royal Navy base at Faslane and RAF Lossiemouth exist: to protect our people and deter our enemies. But the nature of the danger is changing – we are increasingly under threat from the growing frequency and sophistication of cyber attacks, not only from hostile states but from criminals and ‘hacktivists’ within our own country too.

This Government’s objective is clear: to make the United Kingdom the safest place in the world to live, work and do business online. That is why we launched our National Cyber Security Strategy in November last year. Supported by £1.9 billion of investment, the strategy sets out ambitious policies not only to defend the UK against evolving cyber threats and deter foreign hostile action – but also to develop the cyber security industry and equip the right people with the right skills to tackle this emerging threat.

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Indeed, ensuring we have the appropriate skills and knowledge base is fundamental to positioning the United Kingdom as a world leader in cyber security. We are already working with businesses and industry throughout the UK in order to upskill, educate and train the next generation of cyber security specialists, while the launch of the National Cyber Security Centre in London earlier this year provides a central point for cyber security at a national level.

If we are to stay one step ahead, we must also utilise the best of the ground-breaking research that comes out of this country’s academic institutions. The United Kingdom is proud to be home to some of the oldest and finest universities in the world, cementing our status as a global academic powerhouse without parallel. The quality and quantity of research that emanates from our university campuses is vital if we are to develop the capabilities we need to defend ourselves and stay out in front.

It is in the rapidly evolving field of cyber security that such ability particularly stands out. In 2012, GCHQ, working with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, recognised a group of UK universities as ‘academic centres of excellence’ in cyber security research – leading the latest in cutting edge thinking and developing the promising researchers of tomorrow. Yet although this was impressive, we need to do even more to spread our skills and knowledge base even wider. That is why I am proud today to announce the University of Edinburgh as the first academic institution in Scotland to be officially recognised by the UK Government as an academic centre of excellence for cyber security research. Joining thirteen other universities across the country and working directly with GCHQ and the National Cyber Security Centre, Edinburgh will be at the forefront of the UK’s drive to fight the growing threat of cyber attacks to our country and make the internet a safer place for us all.

The prowess of universities such as Edinburgh are just one way that British academia can help us build the capacity and capability in cyber security research we need to stay ahead. We are also sponsoring the doctoral programmes of our nation’s scholars, nurturing some of the best talents in the country. And later this year we will launch a new cyber skills strategy, building on existing work to integrate cyber security into our education system. The UK Government cannot combat this threat alone, however. We can help provide some of the tools and information needed to manage cyber security risks – but every citizen, business and organisation must also play their part. That is why our organisations and universities have such an important role to play: by harnessing the knowledge and skills of our finest minds, we can truly lead the world in developing the research, learning and capability we need to keep our people safe. And in doing so, we will build world class capability that we can export to our friends and allies abroad.

This Government is committed to keeping our country and our citizens secure above all else. Scotland has always been central to the UK’s efforts to provide traditional deterrence through our brilliant armed forces. Now it is institutions such as Edinburgh which highlight the expertise and skills that we can draw on from all four parts of our Union in our mission to build a nation that is united and coordinated against the new threats we face. Only by doing so will we together remain resilient, prosperous and confident as we leave the European Union and build a global, outward-looking Britain that embraces the world.

:: The Rt Hon Ben Gummer MP is Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General