Does fighting digital fires make you a Key Worker? And if not - should it?

News by SC Staff

While businesses are closed there will be a greater need for both physical and cyber-security professionals to both protect vital personal information in closed offices; and what about apprentices?

No one would dispute that healthcare workers and security services are key workers during the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) crisis - but beyond that group, it’s unlikely that the Government will keep everyone happy with who is included - and who is excluded - particularly as its definition focuses on the public sector.

For cyber-security, it is reassuring that key workers do include the information technology and data infrastructure sector as well as key staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals, telecommunications (including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, IT and data infrastructure. (Full list at the end of this article).

But on the first day of school and nursery closures,  the implications are just as serious for many in the private sector. Just as you wouldn’t want the person managing the critical safety of a nuclear plant to be simultaneously juggling the demands of children at home, so the same applies to those responsible for the cyber-security of industry, business and all those services holding our data.

In email correspondence with SC Media UK, CTO, CISO & DPO for Virtually Informed commented:  “When I first heard about the Government’s plans to identify ‘key workers’ I had mistakenly thought that they action meant key works, but it seems that their focus was on ‘key public services’. In my mind I had thought that while businesses are closed there will be a greater need for both physical and cyber-security professionals to both protect the offices that are no longer being used with all the vital personal information in them. Alongside the cyber-security professionals who will be ensuring that while people are working from home that their business data is still protected wherever they work.

“If the government don’t clarify this soon, they could find the economy affected in a negative way – all security professionals are key workers to protect the economy from criminals who would otherwise take great advantage of all businesses, their customers, their data and other assets.

“In a time when other key workers are protecting human beings, we mustn’t forget that when things get better all the other things that people rely on are also worth protecting, and to protect them we need key security workers.”

Jake Moore, cyber-security specialist at ESET agreed saying: “This list of key workers reflects a very exclusive group of people, and you could argue that many other roles could be included. However, to properly distance from one another socially, this list must be confined to just skeleton staff across the country. Luckily, many cyber-security jobs can continue online as normal, keeping businesses secure and online – albeit now with the possibility of children in the home office. What is desperately required more at a time like this is awareness of an increase in phishing attacks, which are scaring people into clicking things they normally wouldn’t think twice about.

“What we could see is youngsters learning more about what their parents do, and if that is learn more about cyber-security, that could be a good thing to shrink the skills shortage in the industry going forward.”

In an email to SC Media UK, Vinous Ali, associate director of policy at techUK commented: “techUK is pleased to see that workers in the information technology, telecommunications and data infrastructure sector have been defined as key workers. The guidance produced by Government alongside industry give employers the flexibility they need to assess key workers in their operations. We would urge employers to be responsible about who needs to be in the office and encourage them to help their staff find alternative arrangements to support them working from home wherever possible.”

In contrast, the British Security Industry Association (BSIA) is urgently calling on the Government to clarify the status of its members covering a wide range of security services, from manpower and key holding services, technology centre monitoring and security systems installation and operators. 

Mike Reddington, chief executive, BSIA, said: “Our members provide security services critical to the UK infrastructure on a day to day basis, and in the current climate, these services become even more essential. It is vital that these organisations continue to have access to their critical teams and infrastructure to support the wider variety of clients, including  the Police, schools, banks, supermarkets, pharmacies, and critical supply chains.

Another group that is being hit is those on apprenticeships.Ben Hansford, who heads up apprenticeships at Firebrand Training wrote to SC Media UK to note how the government, organisations who hire apprentices and apprentices themselves need to take urgent action to ensure their education is disrupted as little as possible.

He comments; “The coronavirus has hit the apprenticeship industry like a steam train. Hundreds of thousands of apprentices have been affected, even more so than university students, because the most important aspect of this form of education is that learners gain practical, real-world experience which is currently impossible.” He says, “Apprenticeship providers and businesses where possible should offer virtual training and give apprentices the opportunity to frontload the theoretical parts of their course during this challenging time. They should be encouraged to attend relevant webinars to broaden their knowledge, catch up with their tutors and collate evidence ahead of their EPAs (end-point assessments). But, if we have to work remotely for three to four months, this simply won’t be good enough because putting theory into practice is the key reason why apprenticeships are so effective, especially for some of the most critical STEM-based apprenticeships like engineering and cyber-security.”

Hansford concludes: “The onus is of course on the government as it controls the purse-strings. It must release cash to support colleges and apprenticeship training providers, otherwise they will go under, leaving a massive, long-term gap in the Further Education ecosystem. It must also flex funding rules around “length of stay” (which is the period an apprentice is supposed to complete their course in) by adding three months onto all active apprenticeships, paid for by the government so that individuals and organisations won’t be left out of pocket.”

Key workers as defined by the government: 

Health and social care

This includes but is not limited to doctors, nurses, midwives, paramedics, social workers, care workers, and other frontline health and social care staff including volunteers; the support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector; those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributers of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment.

Education and childcare

This includes childcare, support and teaching staff, social workers and those specialist education professionals who must remain active during the COVID-19 response to deliver this approach.

Key public services

This includes those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and workers delivering key frontline services, those responsible for the management of the deceased, and journalists and broadcasters who are providing public service broadcasting.

Local and national government

This only includes those administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the COVID-19 response, or delivering essential public services, such as the payment of benefits, including in government agencies and arms length bodies.

Food and other necessary goods

This includes those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines).

Public safety and national security

This includes police and support staff, Ministry of Defence civilians, contractor and armed forces personnel (those critical to the delivery of key defence and national security outputs and essential to the response to the COVID-19 pandemic), fire and rescue service employees (including support staff), National Crime Agency staff, those maintaining border security, prison and probation staff and other national security roles, including those overseas.


This includes those who will keep the air, water, road and rail passenger and freight transport modes operating during the COVID-19 response, including those working on transport systems through which supply chains pass.

Utilities, communication and financial services

This includes staff needed for essential financial services provision (including but not limited to workers in banks, building societies and financial market infrastructure), the oil, gas, electricity and water sectors (including sewerage), information technology and data infrastructure sector and primary industry supplies to continue during the COVID-19 response, as well as key staff working in the civil nuclear, chemicals, telecommunications (including but not limited to network operations, field engineering, call centre staff, IT and data infrastructure, 999 and 111 critical services), postal services and delivery, payments providers and waste disposal sectors.

If workers think they fall within the critical categories above, they should confirm with their employer that, based on their business continuity arrangements, their specific role is necessary for the continuation of this essential public service.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

Video and interviews