UK minister: Cyber-security a 'priority' for government, but no ban on encryption

News by Doug Drinkwater

UK minister Ed Vaizey has dismissed media reports that the Conservative government plans to ban encryption, whilst also promising that cyber-security remains a 'priority' in Whitehall.

Vaizey, minister of state at the department for culture, media and sport (DCM) and the department for business, innovation and skills (BIS), was the keynote speaker at an event hosted by think-tank Reform in London today, where he announced several new government initiatives while also talking up its digitalisation efforts and local cyber-security companies.

He opened by saying that the digital economy, and the opportunities that can arise from the likes of driverless cars, blockchain technology and quantum computing, shows just how important cyber-security is.

“Cyber-security underpins the digital economy, it's the lock and keys of the digital economy, and we need it to keep our businesses safe, our citizens safe and public services we all rely on safe. And if we're going to be a world leader in technology we should be world leader in cyber-security. So dare I say it, there's also an important economic case to invest in cyber. We're [also] well aware of the huge opportunities to UK PLC if we become world leaders in cyber.”

Citing the government's £860 million Cyber Security Strategy rolled out four years ago, he went onto add:

“We're investing in cyber-security despite the challenges we have faced in public finances, and we've achieved so much since we announced the programme in 2011. I think we've really started to change the UK approach to cyber-security and have a much better understanding in government and industry – but that's not to say we're complacent or unaware of the need to go even further and learn even more, because the cyber-threat is still absolutely massive.”

Vaizey continued that the Strategic Defence and Security Review is currently looking into the future of cyber-security, but reassured attendees here that it remains a ‘priority' for government.

“Whatever the outcome of that review cyber-security will remain a priority for government, and we will continue to tackle the dangers posed by cyber-security, and continue to invest in growing cyber-security sector.

The minister, who co-chairs the Cyber Growth Partnership with BT to boost cyber exports, was keen to highlight the public sector's role in the creation of CERT-UK, the work of the National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU) inside the National Crime Agency, as well as initiatives such as free training for businesses and Cyber Essentials.

“We want all businesses across the digital economy to adopt Cyber Essentials,” he added, while admitting that further work is needed to encourage SMEs.

To counter that, he announced the Cyber Security Innovation vouchers scheme alongside the Cyber Security Knowledge Transfer Partnerships and Inspired Careers initiatives at the event. More details can be found here.

Finally, as the event drew to a close, asked the burning question – is the UK government really seeking to 'ban' encryption, as suggested by some media reports?

 “…We don't want to ban encryption. I don't quite know where that came from,” he told SC.

“On all these issues, whether its cyber-security or protecting children online, and on all issues I deal with, the changes digital is bringing in are overwhelmingly good but have elements which are not so good.

“I've always said we should work in partnership with tech companies so don't think anything wrong with any politician saying need to have dialogue with technology sector about how we achieve mutual aims with providing citizen with secure environment with which to do their business, but at same time having a system where we know how to keep ourselves and fellow citizens safe from the kind of threats that we know have increased through use of digital technology.

He added: “So there is a dialogue, and long may it continue. We want to get a framework and we don't think you can get it right unless you work with technology companies. We certainly don't want this…binary dialogue where government says we want one thing, and the technology sector says ‘well, you don't understand the technology'. That's completely pointless.”

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