Cybersecurity concept

MoD’s ‘fundamental reset’ hampered by lack of digital skills

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The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is expecting to spend £11.7bn over the next 10 years updating or replacing its digital systems to keep pace with potential adversaries.

The MoD's ambition for its spending programme is to transform the armed forces' use of technology, enabling the MoD to seamlessly share and exploit data in military operations across land, air, sea, space and cyber.

However, the National Audit Office (NAO) said the MoD was struggling to recruit and retain the skilled staff it needed - in part, because it could not match the pay on offer in the private sector.

“Technologists see the MoD as bureaucratic and the hiring process - including getting security clearance - as too lengthy,” the NAO added. “The shortfall of technical skills is affecting the delivery of both individual programmes and the strategy.”

The NAO said the programme faced further challenges due to the nature of the MoD’s business, requiring the use of technology in hostile environments with limited connectivity, such as at sea.

“The MoD is not alone in facing these challenges, but it urgently needs to develop a realistic plan if its armed forces are to be equipped for the modern battlefield,” said Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons Public Accounts. 

Overall, the British economy is estimated to be losing an astonishing £6.3bn in GDP per year, largely due to a widespread lack of proper digital and computing skills in the workforce, resulting in unfilled jobs.

An MoD spokesperson said: "Exploiting digital capabilities and data is fundamental to our success in modern military operations and to the effective running of defence. As the National Audit Office has recognised, defence has a strong digital strategy and we are making good progress in implementing it.

“We acknowledge the report's recommendations, including that we need a clear overall plan to strengthen delivery, which we are taking immediate action to implement. Digital transformation is a priority for the department and the report's insights and recommendations will help us to realise our ambitions."

The news comes amid a noted rise in cyber-crime activity. In the last year, approximately 1.6 million people in the UK were victims of cyber crime, with tens of thousands of businesses also targeted, according to government figures. 

Nadhim Zahawi, lead minister for cyber security, has warned that UK businesses must start taking cyber crime more seriously and do more to protect themselves, including working more closely with the government. 

Currently, only 23 per cent of firms have a cyber-security plan, he said, stressing that companies must stop thinking of cyber security as “an issue just for company IT departments” and instead treat it as a business priority.

“We need organisations to do more to boost their cyber defences,” Zahawi added. “It is clear from the number of businesses that have suffered cyber attacks that this is an area of vulnerability.

“So my message to businesses is clear: work more closely with us on building skills, training and online defences, which will have a positive impact on the successes of your companies and will in turn help us deliver our ambitious plan to increase economic prosperity and put more money in people’s pockets.”

Meanwhile, the EU said that a ransomware attack takes place every 11 seconds, with the global annual cost of cyber crime estimated at €5.5tn (£4.8tn) in 2021.

The National Cyber Security Centre’s (NCSC) 'Suspicious Email Reporting Service' has received more than 13.7 million reports since it was launched in April 2020, leading to the removal of more than 95,000 scams. Moreover, last week, GCHQ director Sir Jeremy Fleming also warned of China’s growing use of technology to bolster its influence overseas.

Over the past year, organisations across the world, from the UK’s NHS to Apple in the US, and even the Albanian government, have suffered severe cyber attacks that have disrupted services and put users’ personal information at risk. 

In order to mitigate this threat, the UK government has published a 'Business Board Toolkit' and a '10 Steps to Cyber-security Guide' that provides advice for businesses about how to improve their cyber security.

The UK has also developed a 'National Cyber Strategy' to boost the UK’s credentials and security in the digital world, underpinned by £2.6bn in funding until 2030. According to Zahawi, it is not possible to “achieve economic growth without economic security in a digital world”.

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